AUSTIN (AP) - Activists packed into a hearing room at the Texas Legislature on Thursday night, the vast majority of them opposing tighter restrictions on when, where and how women may obtain abortions.
Abortion rights activists warned that the proposed rules would shut down 90 percent of the abortion clinics in Texas and force women to rely on illegal and unregulated abortion providers. But supporters said their goal was to reduce the number of abortions in Texas and guarantee safer procedures for those that happen.
Rep. Jody Laubenberg, R-Parker, said she was proposing the new restrictions because she thinks "the Legislature should be on the side of life, not death."
"Ultimately it is about saving the unborn and keeping children from being killed," added Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville.
The House State Affairs Committee took up the bills after the Senate passed the same measures on Tuesday night. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said it was part of his anti-abortion agenda. The most controversial measure would ban abortions after 20 weeks, while the current limit is 24 weeks.
Texas would also require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and only allow abortions in surgical facilities. Many private hospitals will not grant privileges to a doctor who performs abortions and 37 out of the state's 42 abortion clinics do not qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, a high standard usually reserved for surgical procedures.
Laubenberg said her proposed 20-week ban included exemptions to protect a woman's health and for fetuses that could not survive outside the womb.
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, expressed concern that the exemption for the health of the mother required her to "face immediate injury or death" before a doctor can act.
"The language in this legislation would make the doctor to wonder what to do because they would face repercussions," Farrar said.
She also questioned why there was no exemption for the mental health of the woman.
"I think the woman's mental health can be very subjective," Laubenberg said.
When pressed why she was pushing for tougher standards for abortions than more invasive procedures, she argued it was fundamentally different.
"We are looking at terminating a life in the womb, and that's a lot different than taking someone's tonsils out," Laubenberg said.
Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, complained that there was no exemption for victims of rape or incest in the ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
"There is no way you should put a time limit on a woman who has been assaulted and tell her she has five months to make a decision," said Hannah Beck, representing the National Organization of Women.
Pro-life groups are extremely influential in the Republican Party, and Democrats accused GOP Gov. Rick Perry of adding abortion laws to the special session agenda to help his allies in the Legislature win tough primary races next year.
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