Texas House OKs bill restricting abortions, moves it to Senate

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, set strict health and safety standards for abortion clinics, and restrict use of the so-called abortion pill.

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The House, which gave preliminary approval to the bill late on Tuesday, voted 96 to 49 on Wednesday to send it to the state Senate.

The House approved the same proposal during a previous special session of the legislature, but the bill failed in the Senate after Democratic Senator Wendy Davis staged an 11-hour filibuster to prevent passage.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican who opposes abortion, called lawmakers back to the state capital, Austin, for a second special session to reconsider the bill. A majority of lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Senate favor it.

The “abortion pill” refers to the abortion-inducing drug RU-486.

Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides health counseling and services including abortions, has said the stricter standards for clinics could cause all but six of the 42 abortion facilities in Texas to close. The bill’s author, Republican Jodie Laubenberg, has said none of the facilities would be forced to close.

Since the second special session began on July 1, thousands of Texans - wearing blue if they support the legislation and orange if they oppose it - have packed the capitol to testify at hearings, hold rallies and march.

“The tremendous outpouring of support for this legislation has demonstrated how Texas stands for life, and I commend everyone who wore blue, turned out and spoke up in support of life in our state,” Perry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Cecile Richards, national president of Planned Parenthood, said after the preliminary vote on Tuesday evening that the bill was the latest in a series of assaults on women’s health in Texas.

“With this vote, the Texas House of Representatives ignored not just the thousands of Texans who have spoken out against these attacks on women’s health, but the vast majority of Texans,” she said.

Five people were arrested in the House gallery Wednesday morning on charges of disrupting a meeting, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The five were identified by the advocacy group Rise Up/Levanta Texas as activists opposed to the bill.

Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Steve Orlofsky