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After divisive debate, Texas Senate approves restrictive abortion measure

After divisive debate, Texas Senate approves restrictive abortion measure
CNN
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Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 10:29am

A bill that places new restrictions on abortion passed the Texas Senate on Friday after days of debate that galvanized activists nationwide.

It was the second attempt by the measure's supporters to pass the bill in the Senate -- it originally failed to gain approval because of a filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis.

The Senate voted 19 to 11 to approve the restrictions.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who supports the new abortion laws, called the state Legislature back into a second special session to continue consideration of the bill, which passed the Texas House on Wednesday.

The measure bans abortions past 20 weeks of gestation, mandates abortion clinics become ambulatory surgical centers, tightens usage guidelines for the drug RU486 and requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic at which they're providing such services.

Critics of the measure say it would shut down most abortion clinics in Texas -- denying access to many in rural communities -- and force women to seek dangerous back-alley abortions.

The Republican legislators who support it say the bill isn't about banning abortions, but rather about protecting women's health.

The special session was marked by loud protests and high-profile voices from both sides of the abortion debate.

Taking a swipe at former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who came to Austin to support the bill, Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson made a final appeal to the Republicans to vote no, asking them to: "Take this chance to stop, take this chance to think, take this chance to stop listening to the partisans and failed presidential candidates."

However, for supporters of the bill such as Sen. Jane Nelson, the bill's measures are long overdue.

"There is a clear choice in this vote tonight," she said. "Do we keep the lax standards, do we forgo safeguards, do we ignore the evidence that at 20 weeks we have a child who can feel? Or do we choose life?"

The roars of the crowd in the rotunda were audible throughout the Senate debate and at one point, abortion rights protesters disrupted the proceedings in the Senate gallery. One protester, singing quietly to the chamber, chained herself to a railing in the gallery and brought the session to a brief halt.

The bill makes its way to Perry, who will sign it into law.

"Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life," Perry said after the bill's passage. "This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health. I am proud of our lawmakers and citizens who tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable Texans and future Texans."

Planned Parenthood, a leading reproductive health provider, decried the passage and called on voters to throw out the politicians who voted for it.

"If you are angry about what happened in Texas tonight -- and what's happening in other states all around the country -- there is something you can do about it," spokeswoman Dawn Laguens said. "Register to vote, and vote for candidates who will protect women's access to health care."

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