Texas passes one of toughest anti-abortion laws in US

Texas politicians have given final
approval to one of the US's toughest
anti-abortion bills, but opponents
are set to challenge the legisation in
federal court.
More than a thousand pro-choice
and anti-abortion demonstrators
packed the state capitol in Austin
late on Friday night as senators
voted on legislation that has made
Texas the focus of nationwide
abortion-rights activism.
The senate passed House Bill 2 by
19 votes to 11 just before midnight
local time. Texas governor Rick
Perry is now due to sign it off.
Texas is one of several states that
have sought to restrict access to
abortions this year, but it has
attracted the most attention due to
the publicity surrounding
Democratic state senator Wendy
Davis's bid to block the bill with an
almost 11-hour filibuster .
"The key will be what the courts
will do," Sylvia Garcia, a
Democratic senator for Houston
and a former judge, said before the
vote. "I think the Texas proposal is
on a path to litigation, to being held
unconstitutional. We'll have to
wait for the courts to ultimately
decide."
Last Monday a federal judge issued
a ruling temporarily blocking the
introduction of a new abortion law
in Wisconsin. Like the Texas plans,
the law calls for doctors who
perform abortions to have
admitting privileges at a nearby
hospital. The Texas bill also insists
that clinics upgrade to meet the
standards of ambulatory surgical
centres and bans abortions after 20
weeks.
Republicans blocked attempts by
Democrats to dilute the measures
on Friday, including an
amendment that would have
allowed exceptions to the 20-week
limit for victims of incest or rape.
When Davis, her fellow Democrats
and noisy protesters successfully
stalled an attempted vote on the
original bill on 25 June, Perry
swiftly recalled lawmakers for a
special session lasting up to 30 days
to give the proposals another
chance to pass.
Perry said on Fox News last
Sunday that the shouting that
scuppered the vote was "mob rule".
During this session, which began
last week, officials have been
strictly enforcing a ban on what
they consider to be disruptive
conduct. But there was no silencing
the crowds who gathered on all
four floors of the capitol's huge
rotunda on Friday for the climax
of weeks of protests and rallies
related to the bill, creating a heady,
unruly atmosphere.
Many chanted slogans and songs
and brandished banners. Some of
the anti-abortion activists held up
placards referencing the Bible.
Those against the bill wore orange,
and those who termed themselves
"pro-life" dressed in blue.
By mid-afternoon the orange
demonstrators heavily
outnumbered the blues and the
queue to enter the gallery stretched
along a staircase and almost to the
end of one wing of the statehouse,
with hundreds standing for hours
in the hope of seeing the
proceedings. There was silence in
the halls when Wendy Davis spoke
shortly after 11.30pm. "Tens of
thousands of Texans will not be
able to make the long drive,
sometimes hundreds of miles, to the
closest clinic," she said. "We are
about to take away from victims of
rape and incest a chance to reclaim
their lives."
Security was tight on Friday. The
Texas department of public safety
issued a press release saying it had
confiscated containers suspected to
contain urine, faeces, paint,
confetti and glitter.
For a time, troopers even took
away tampons on the basis that
they could be used as missiles.
Garcia believes that the publicity
generated by the bill and the degree
of dissent marks "a tipping point
for women in Texas and across the
country". The 62-year-old said the
legislation is "part of an extreme
agenda by radical right groups who
would prefer to ban abortions
around the country".
Democrats argue that the bill will
force the closure of all but five of
the state's 42 abortion clinics,
resulting in a loss of access to other
family-planning services they
provide, such as advice and disease
screening.
Opponents also claim it will force
women in rural areas to travel vast
distances or seek medical help from
black-market sources. However,
those in favour say that tightening
regulations will help protect
women if complications occur.
"It's not just about abortion, it's
about women's healthcare and
whether we allow government to
chip away at constitutional rights,"
Garcia said. She accused Texas
Republicans of putting women's
safety at risk to satisfy personal
political ambitions.
After the vote, Davis tweeted: "The
fight for the future of Texas is just
beginning." There are rumours that
she may run for governor next
year.