Texas Republicans pass sweeping abortion restrictions

Texas' Republican-controlled House of Representatives has approved sweeping new abortion laws, including a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and stricter standards for abortion clinics.

Efforts by Democrats to slow the process threatened to kill the measure before the end of the special session.

Were the bill to become law, Texas would have some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country and become the 13th state to pass a 20-week ban.

However, Democrats threatened to quash the bill — known as SB 5 — by stalling the vote as long as possible in the hopes their Senate colleagues could mount a filibuster on Tuesday night.

The measure passed 95-34, with the support of four Democrats, but must sit for 24 hours before the Senate can vote on it and send it to Gov. Rick Perry.

Supporters claimed the bill would protect women's health and keep fetuses from feeling pain. The measure's House sponsor, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, told colleagues:

"Sadly, too often today the back-alley abortion is the abortion clinic because the standards for providers and the facilities are too lax or substandard. This bill will assure that women are given the highest standard of healthcare."

However, opponents said it will cause nearly all the state's abortion clinics to close or be completely rebuilt. 

The new law would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and limit abortions to surgical centers. As most Texas hospitals do not grant privileges to doctors who perform abortions — mainly due to religious objections but also fear of becoming the target of protests — abortion-rights advocates warned the bill would shut down many Texan abortion clinics.

Flyers on the desks of many of the conservative majority read "Psalm 139:13-14," which says in part:

"You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat — who took to the floor of the House waving a coat hanger — said:

"There are going to be more people ending up in the hospital DOA [dead on arrival] for trying to do the abortions themselves."

Thompson had called for an exemption for victims of rape and incest, but Laubenberg said that was unnecessary:

"In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out. The woman had five months to make that decision, at this point we are looking at a baby that is very far along in its development."

In fact, "rape kits" are used during forensic examinations to gather physical evidence following allegations of rape or sexual assault. Laubenberg's mistake was widely ridiculed on social media.

As House voted to pass the bill, applause among conservatives was punctuated by calls of "Shame" from the public gallery.

[View the story "Texas Republican's #fail on correct use of rape kits" on Storify]