By CHRIS TOMLINSON
AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas House approved new abortion limits today in a second special session, less than two weeks after Senate Republicans failed to finish work on the bill amid a filibuster and raucous protests.
A final vote could be held as early as Friday in the Senate, where the measure died as the first special session expired. The House voted mostly along party lines on what has become signature GOP legislation.
Lawmakers spent more than 10 hours debating it Tuesday, and Republicans rejected every attempt to amend the bill. Throngs of protesters were missing for Wednesday's mostly procedural vote after days of protests by supporters and opponents.
The bill requires doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers and ban abortions after 20 weeks.
The House gallery was largely empty this morning, with a smattering of the orange and blue T-shirts worn by opponents and supporters of the bill. This was in stark contrast to Tuesday night's vote, when hundreds filled the Capitol rotunda chanting, "Shame on you!"
Planned Parenthood took their Stand With Texas Women campaign on the road Tuesday, rallying more than 1,100 supporters in downtown Houston to oppose the measure. The bus tour was expected in Dallas today, with a speech by Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis, a rising Democratic star following her filibuster against the bill last month.
No other issue in Texas has rallied Democratic voters, young activists and women's right supporters in recent years like House Bill 2. The Texas Democratic Party has helped organize rallies opposing the bill and have used them to register new voters.
Gov. Rick Perry has made it a personal goal to end abortions in Texas, and voting for anti-abortion measures is a litmus test for Republican politicians. Conservative Christian groups keep scorecards on lawmaker's voting records.
There is little Democrats can do to stop the measure in the Republican-controlled Legislature. But they have worked hard to enter into the legislative record testimony that opponents can use to convince a federal court to overturn the law before it can take effect.
They also say the Texas restrictions and those passed by other states conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established that a woman has the right to get an abortion until her fetus could viably survive outside of the womb, which is generally at 22 to 24 weeks of the pregnancy.
It's unclear if the Texas restrictions could survive a court challenge. Federal courts have suspended aspects of the bill enacted by other states. On Monday, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin abortion law requiring admitting privileges.
The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology oppose the bill, calling it unnecessary.
Democratic Rep. Ruth McClendon, of San Antonio, made one last attempt to amend the bill Wednesday to add funding for the Adoption Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to families that adopt children in the foster care system. Other Democrats said that if the bill passes, then the number of unintended pregnancies would increase and place greater demand on the foster system.
"If we don't adopt this amendment, then we are saying that we don't care about the children of Texas," she said.
But the bill's author Rep. Jody Laubenberg, R-Parker, said she opposed all amendments to her bill. She said the Legislature had appropriated enough money for foster children.