By Anna M. Tinsley
The Texas House today gave final approval to a hotly contested proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks -- and put in place restrictions that would lead to the closing of most abortion clinics in the state -- after less than one hour of debate.
Members voted 96-49 on the measure, which now sends the one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws in the country to the Texas Senate, where passage appears certain.
"The tremendous outpouring of support for this legislation has demonstrated how Texas stands for life, and I commend everyone who wore blue, turned out and spoke up in support of life in our state," Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. "Now is not the time to waver, however, as the Senate continues its important work in support of women's health and protecting the lives of our most vulnerable Texans."
As members began casting their votes, a woman in the gallery stood and said loudly: "I am a woman of color. I object to these proceedings."
The unidentified woman was removed from the gallery by several Texas DPS officers as the final vote was tallied and many House members stood and applauded the passage of the bill.
"On to the Senate -- Praise God!" tweeted state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.
The Senate drew nationwide attention at the end of the first special session, after the bill died because of a filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and loud noise from the crowd in the galleries that created pandemonium.
Articles about the death of the bill has run in publications across the world; video of senators on the Senate floor, as loud noise from spectators in the gallery prevented elected officials from knowing whether they had approved the bill, has played repeatedly on local and nationwide newscasts.
Gov. Rick Perry -- who has been questioned about how such disruption could occur in the Texas Legislature -- quickly called lawmakers back to work July 1 to once and for all pass this bill. And Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has vowed to make sure the bill passes the Senate this time around.
"As a Texan, I respect your toughness," he told bill opponents this week. "But as a leader, we're going to pass this bill." At the heart of the debate is banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Other provisions of the bill require abortions to be performed at ambulatory surgical centers, create more oversight of women taking abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 and require doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the facilities where they perform abortions.
There now are about three dozen licensed health centers in Texas where women may get abortions. If this measure becomes law, all but a few will likely close, leaving facilities only in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, estimates say.
Security has increased throughout the Capitol, as additional Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have been brought it from across the state, as officials work to avoid a repeat of what happened in the Senate last month -- actions top GOP officials have called "mob rule" and Democrats have dubbed the "citizens' filibuster."
Shortly before the vote on the bill Wednesday, more than a dozen additional DPS troopers entered the House gallery. Unlike during past debates, the gallery was not full.
(c)2013 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram