Texas lawmakers cleared the way Friday for Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law strict limits on abortion in the country's second-most populous state.
The GOP-led Texas Senate passed House Bill 2, 19-11, one minute before midnight on Friday after debating and tabling 20 amendments. If an amendment had been added to the bill, it would have been sent back to the House.
Protesters packed both the gallery and Capitol rotunda, as well as surrounding the entrances of the building outside, as legislators discussed H.B. 2. The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and critics say it could close dozens of clinics by requiring all abortions to take place in surgical centers, which many of the health centers do not qualify as.
The Senate's vote came just two weeks after Democrat State Sen. Wendy Davis successfully stopped a vote on the bill during a filibuster in the Legislature's last special session. The bill now heads to Perry who has already promised to sign it into law. Perry, who called the abortion debate "a human rights issue," ordered lawmakers back to Austin after Davis' filibuster, promising to not let "the unruly actions of a few" stand in the way.
The last special session ended in chaos after the gallery erupted with shouts and applause as midnight neared. Supporters of the bill decried the "unruly mob" that disrupted the vote, and security was increased dramatically at the Capitol as the Senate met for Friday's vote. Items such as tampons, maxi pads, and other items that could be thrown onto the Senate floor were confiscated as members of the public entered the gallery, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported. However, guns were still allowed with conceal-and-carry permits due to the state's law.
A lawsuit over the abortion bill is not out of the question: similar 20-week bans have been passed in 10 states since 2010, and courts in Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho have struck them down. Abortion rights advocates have argued the various laws are part of a national effort to chip away at women's rights. Planned Parenthood, which offers abortion services in Texas and elsewhere, will make a decision about filing a lawsuit to stop the law during the 90-day period after the governor signs it but before it takes effect, a spokeswoman told msnbc.
This is the third time the Texas Legislature has debated the restrictions outlined in the abortion bill. State Sen. John Whitmire, who challenged his Republican colleagues during Friday night's debate over their votes to table key amendments, told msnbc.com at the start of the current special session that the abortion measures which were proposed during the regular session were blocked for lack of support. Whitmire noted the two-thirds majority rule was suspended by Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst during the last special session, and a majority vote was put in.
Dewhurst, who lost to Ted Cruz in the 2012 Senate race, is facing strong criticism from his own party over failing to get the abortion bill through to Perry in the last special session, and will fight to defend his seat in next year's primary.
Republican State Sen. Dan Patrick, who announced his campaign for lieutenant governor after the Senate's failure in the last special session, has been vocal about pushing through with the bill. "It's time the pro-life community had their voice heard," Patrick said in a statement.
Texas Democrats expected not to have the votes to stop their GOP colleagues this time around. But they believe the law will be challenged as contravening the abortion rights decided by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
"As soon as it’s signed by the governor, it will be challenged," State Sen. Royce West told the Associated Press. "We believe the whole bill is unconstitutional."