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Texas Senate to resume battle over abortion restrictions

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The political battle in Texas over proposed restrictions on abortion resumes on Monday with a rally by abortion opponents and a public hearing in the state Senate, where Democrat Wendy Davis staged a filibuster last month to stall the Republican-backed measure.

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Davis’s tactic forced Republicans to start over in the state legislature their effort to pass a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and toughen regulations for abortion clinics.

Crowds of people advocating on both sides of the debate were expected to converge on the Texas capitol building for the public hearing in the Senate starting on Monday morning.

Democrats asked that hearings be held around the state. But Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson dismissed this, citing a lack of time in the special legislative session, which began July 1 and can last no longer than 30 days.

Davis was able to derail the proposal last month because she spoke until Republicans ran out of time to officially approve the measure before the 30 days ran out.

Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, criticized efforts by Davis’s supporters who loudly cheered from the public gallery to further slow down the final minutes of the session, calling it “mob rule” in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.

That tactic would not work again, he suggested, saying he believed that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was “making arrangements if people want to come and disrupt the democratic process that they will be escorted out of the chamber appropriately.”

“I full well expect the legislature to manage this in an appropriate way, get it done way before the 30 days of the legislation runs out in special session,” Perry said.

Abortion opponents said they would hold a rally at the capitol building on Monday evening in support of the proposed law.

Opponents of the law held a rally last week at the same location where hundreds of people greeted Davis as a hero for her stand against the bill.

At an emotional House committee hearing last week, more than 3,500 people registered their position on the bill, House officials said. Not all of those who wanted to speak got the chance because the committee chairman stopped testimony after about eight hours.

The House committee then voted to move the proposal forward to the full House of Representatives, which was expected to vote on the measure this week.

Action now moves to the Senate, where Davis during last month’s filibuster became an instant celebrity and focused national attention on conservative states’ efforts to restrict the right to abortion granted by the US Supreme Court in 1973.

Last week alone, three states in addition to Texas took steps toward abortion restrictions. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law a measure requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and requiring women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound. Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a budget that included abortion restrictions, and the North Carolina Senate passed some limits on the procedure.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has said that the Texas measure could lead to the closure of all but six of the state’s 42 abortion facilities. But the author of the Texas House bill, Representative Jodie Laubenberg, said that assertion is an exaggeration, and Perry, in his Sunday interview, called the proposed restrictions “common sense approaches.”

“We’re going to pass some restrictions on abortion in Texas so that Texas is a place where we defend life,” he said. “I mean, that’s the powerful message here.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Walsh