AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — This time when the Texas Senate takes up tough new abortion restrictions, the chamber’s top Republican is determined not to let anything — or anyone — derail a vote.
The Senate’s leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has scheduled a vote for today on the same restrictions on when, where and how women may obtain abortions in Texas that failed to become law after a Democratic filibuster and raucous protesters were able to run out the clock on an earlier special session.
The measures under consideration today mirror restrictions passed in Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin and Arizona, but passing them in the nation’s second-most populous state would be a major victory for the anti-abortion movement.
The Texas bill would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allow abortions only in surgical centers, limit where and when women may take abortion-inducing pills, and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Only five out of 42 existing abortion clinics in Texas meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can’t afford to upgrade or relocate their facilities.
Republicans insist the restrictions would guarantee better health care for women and fetuses. But critics see it as a way of regulating all Texas abortion clinics out of business. More than 5,000 people swarmed the Capitol last week to oppose the bill.
Democrats successfully defeated the bill in the regular legislative session. Then, during the first special session, the Senate didn’t take up the bill until the final day. That allowed Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis to use a filibuster to delay a vote. When Republicans rushed to try to pass the bill in the session’s final 15 minutes, angry protesters began shouting and screaming from the gallery. Dewhurst could only watch with frustration as a half-dozen state troopers tried to remove more than 400 people.
This time, though, Dewhurst has scheduled a vote early enough in the session that Republicans have plenty of time to pass the restrictions. Democrats see no way of stopping the bill from reaching Republican Gov. Rick Perry, for whom it is a top priority.
“We do not have the numbers to stop it,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
But Democrats’ hope that Republicans will have hurt themselves in the long term, that they have overreached in trying to appease their Christian conservative base and alienated suburban women, a constituency that helped President Barack Obama win re-election. Democrats have helped organize the recent protests and top lawmakers have toured the state as part of Planned Parenthood’s Stand With Texas Women campaign to raise awareness about the new law.
Republicans, though, insist they are on solid ground.
The one thing both sides can agree on is that abortion-rights groups will file a federal lawsuit as soon as Perry signs the bill into law. Judges elsewhere have stopped enforcement of similar laws while they work their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.