June 25, 2013

Texas Senate set for filibuster finale on abortion

By Jim Vertuno and Will Weissert / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Then, House Democrats succeeded in stalling nearly all night Sunday, keeping the bill from reaching the Senate until 11 a.m. Monday.

The measure only passed the lower chamber after a raucous debate that saw more than 800 women's rights activists pack the public gallery and surrounding Capitol, imploring lawmakers not to approve it.

While supporters say it will protect women's health, abortion rights groups warn the practical effect of the bill would be to shutter most abortion providers statewide — making it very difficult for Texas women to have the procedure.

Debate ranged from lawmakers waving coat-hangers on the floor and claiming the new rules are so draconian that women are going to be forced to head to drug war-torn Mexico to have abortions, to the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Spring, errantly suggesting that emergency room rape kits could be used to terminate pregnancies.

In the end, though, the bill passed by more than 60 votes as Republicans and some conservative Democrats approved it.

Still, Legislature rules prohibit the Senate from taking up a bill for 24 hours after it clears the House. Republicans struggled to find a way to break the Democratic roadblock, but the vote swung Monday on Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Brownsville Democrat who voted for the abortion bill when it first passed the Senate a week ago but pledged not to approve suspending the rule with Republicans unless Van de Putte was able to make it to the chamber.

She didn't show and Lucio voted with his party, despite his support for the bill.

If the abortion restrictions go down, though, other measure could also fall with it. A proposal to fund major transportation projects as well as a bill to have Texas more closely conform with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision banning mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for offenders younger than 18 might not get votes. Current state law only allows a life sentence without parole for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder.

Watson said Democrats are willing to pass the transportation and 17-year-old sentencing measures but won't budge on abortion.

"Let's get those up, let's get those out of here," Watson said. "Let's not make these victims of red-meat politics."

Patrick said that if the filibuster succeeds, he hopes Perry will summon lawmakers back for a second or even third special session.

"If the majority can't pass the legislation that they believe is important and the people believe is important," he said, "than that's of great concern to me."

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