By Chris Tomlinson
AUSTIN, TEXAS: Texas Republicans turned back amendment after amendment that Democrats offered Friday to try to change proposed new abortion restrictions, refusing to allow exceptions for cases of rape and incest or expanding exceptions for the health of the mother.
Democrats have called the sweeping GOP proposal unnecessary and unconstitutional, but pressed for minor changes to soften the impact of the bill.
The Senate’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 a proposal that has put Texas at the center of the nation’s abortion debate.
Senators could hear hundreds of protesters outside of the chamber in the Capitol rotunda cheering, chanting and singing, “We’re not going to take it anymore.” Some wore gynecological devices around their necks. Supporters of the restrictions carried photos of fetuses and Bible verses, praying in the hallway.
The Senate could vote on the abortion restrictions late Friday or early today, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he will sign it. The Republican majority is expected to pass the bill, with Democrats left to do little more than enter into the legislative record material that could defeat it in federal court.
The circus-like atmosphere in the Texas Capitol marked the culmination of weeks of protests.
House Bill 2 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 meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can’t afford to upgrade or relocate.
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. They introduced amendments to add exceptions for cases of rape and incest and to remove some of the more restrictive clauses.
Sen. Carlos Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, proposed an exception to the 20-week ban for child victims of rape or incest.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give these victims an additional month to make up their minds,” Uresti said.
But Hegar responded that if an abortion were necessary to protect a child from imminent harm or death, an abortion after 20 weeks would be allowed.
The proposed bill mirrors restrictions passed in Ohio, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kansas, Wisconsin and Arizona.