Texas passes abortion bill that bans most terminations after 20 weeks of pregnancy despite Wendy Davis' filibuster

Republican Governor Rick Perry certain to sign, disregarding historic 11-hour speech by Senator Wendy Davis

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The Independent US

Texas' Republican-controlled Senate has voted to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, ending a high-profile political battle that stirred debate over abortion rights across the world.

The bill to restrict abortions will now be passed to Republican Governor Rick Perry, having been already approved by the House. Perry is certain to sign it and had called a second special session of the legislature to get it through.

Texas will become the 13th US state to pass a 20-week ban. The 20-week limit is based on disputed research suggesting foetuses feel pain at that point in a pregnancy. Current limits are 26 weeks in the state.

Angry protesters yelled and chanted outside the chamber as the Senate passed the measure late on Friday by a vote of 19 to 11 in front of a full public gallery.

The issue has drawn huge international attention, largely due to the 11-hour filibuster in June against the bill by Democrat state Senator Wendy Davis. Davis was watched by hundreds crowded into the building whilst the rest of the world took to social media to praise and criticise her all-day speech.

The Texas measure would change standards for abortion clinics that opponents say would cause dozens of the facilities to shut down, forcing Texans to turn to illegal and dangerous methods.

"This bill is creating a situation where women in Texas today not only will not be made safer but they will absolutely be at risk of their health," said Davis.

The bill will require doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic when performing an abortion. Supporters of that provision said it was important in case complications arose during a procedure and the woman needed to be hospitalized.

The Texas legislation also calls for stricter guidelines for how doctors administer abortion-inducing drugs, such as the regimen known as RU-486.

Despite political support in Texas for the bill, there could be legal hurdles. Courts have blocked the ban in three of the 12 states that passed it, and opponents of the Texas bill vowed to challenge the decision in court.

"Let's draw the line and not torture these babies that are aborted," Republican family physician Senator Bob Deuell said during Friday's nine-hour debate.

Thousands of activists for and against the bill gathered at the state capitol this summer for rallies and marches and to testify at public hearings.

The pink granite statehouse was full on Friday. Texans opposed to the bill wore orange and held signs that said: "My body, my choice". Those supporting the bill wore blue, some carrying Bibles and crosses and holding signs with slogans such as "unborn babies feel pain."

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said: "What happened here tonight is going to fast-forward change in Texas in the long run, but unfortunately a lot of women will suffer in the process."

Perry called lawmakers back to Austin for a second special session to reconsider the proposal after Davis's successful filibuster, and this time lawmakers were not fighting the clock. The second special session began 1 July and could last up to 30 days.

"Today the Texas legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life," he said in a statement.

The Texas Department of Public Safety increased security for Friday's debate, searching bags of everyone who entered the Senate gallery. The department said officers found 18 jars containing what appeared to be feces, one jar suspected of containing urine and three bottles of what they believed to be paint.

"All of these items - as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals - were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery," the department said in a statement.

Additional reporting by AP