The Republican-led Texas Legislature has given final approval of a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, setting the stage for an epic legal and political fight over one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws.
Gov. Rick Perry hailed the Senate's passage just before midnight Friday as the "final step in our historic effort to protect life" and vowed to sign the bill into law in the next few days. "This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health," he said.
The Texas legislation is one of several being championed around the country by anti-abortion forces hoping to to create a new challenge to the Supreme Court's Roe vs Wade ruling that legalized abortions.
Democrats and women's rights groups vowed to go to court to reverse the Texas restrictions passed late friday amid large protests inside and outside the state Capitol.
"There will be a lawsuit. I promise you," Sen. Royce West, a Democrat from Dallas, vowed during the final debate.
The legislation bans abortions after 20 weeks, required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and require all abortions take place in surgical centers.
Democrats had offered nearly two dozen amendments ranging from exceptions for rape and incest to allowing doctors more leeway in prescribing abortion-inducing drugs, according to The Associated Press. Republicans rejected each.
Texas falls under the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has shown a willingness to accept more stringent limits on abortions. Passing the law also pleases Christian conservatives who make up the majority of Republican primary voters.
But the measure has also sparked protests in Texas not seen in least 20 years, with thousands of abortion rights supporters flooding the Capitol to draw out normally boring committee hearings and disrupting key votes. Protesters finished a filibuster started by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth by jeering for the last 15 minutes of the first special session, effectively killing the bill.
That's when Perry called lawmakers back for round two. But opponents said the fight is far from over and used the popular anger to register and organize Democratic voters.
"Let's make sure that tonight is not an ending point, it's a beginning point for our future, our collective futures, as we work to take this state back." Davis told 2,000 adoring supporters after the bill passed.
The Texas Republican Party, meanwhile, celebrated what they considered a major victory that makes Texas "a nationwide leader in pro-life legislation."
"As Democrats continue to talk about their dreams of turning Texas blue, passage of HB2 is proof that Texans are conservative and organized and we look forward to working with our amazing Republican leadership in the Texas Legislature as they finish the special session strong," a party statement said.
Friday's debate took place between a packed gallery of demonstrators, with anti-abortion activists wearing blue and abortion-rights supporters wearing orange. Security was tight, and state troopers reported confiscating bottles of urine and feces as they worked to prevent another attempt to stop the Republican majority from passing the proposal.
Those arrested or removed from the chamber included four women who tried to chain themselves to a railing in the gallery while singing, "All we are saying is give choice a chance." One of the women was successful in chaining herself, prompting a 10-minute recess.
Sen. Glen Hegar of Katy, the bill's Republican author, argued that all abortions, including those induced with medications, should take place in an ambulatory surgical center in case of complications.
Democrats pointed out that childbirth is more dangerous than an abortion and there have been no serious problems with women taking abortion drugs at home.
Cecile Richards, the daughter of former Gov. Anne Richards and president of Planned Parenthood, said Texas Republicans and abortion opponents won this political round — but it could cost them down the road.
"All they have done is built a committed group of people across this state who are outraged about the treatment of women and the lengths to which this Legislature will go to take women's health care away," she said.
The dedication of those activists will be tested during the 2014 elections. Democrats have not won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994, the longest such losing streak in the nation.
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