Final approval from the Texas House could come as early as today for a ban on most abortions beyond 20-weeks of pregnancy.
After more than 10 hours of debate Tuesday, the House’s Republican-led majority approved new abortion restrictions 98-49.
In addition to the 20-week ban they include requirements that abortion clinics meet higher healthcare standards in place for surgical centers. Doctors performing abortions would be required to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles.
Even pro-choice protesters like Melissa Scott of Austin, decked out in orange, expect the abortion bill to pass.
“Yes, I live in Texas so I know it will probably pass,” she conceded.
But on the House floor it didn’t sound as though pro-choice Democrats were resigned to defeat.
“These decisions need to be made by a woman, her family members, her physician and her God,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat.
Anchia, a lawyer, was among those who tried to amend the bill which provides some exceptions for abortions after 20 weeks.
One of the exceptions is the health of the mother.
Anchia argued that how the bill defined that exception was so murky and narrow doctors would not be willing to perform the abortion.
“It is so duly restrictive to render the bill unworkable for doctors and secondarily unconstitutional,” he said from the House floor.
His argument about the bill being unconstitutional is key to why opponents have debated so vigorously.
They may not win the battle at the state house, but with their amendments and testimony they are trying to build a legal foundation to overturn the law in the courthouse.
“The Supreme Court has been very clear for 40 years, the health of the mother needs to be an important state interest and needs to be protected,” Anchia said.
“My amendment would have done that. They did not adopt my amendment. I think it puts this bill in constitutional risk,” he added.
Supporters of the abortion bill voted to table more than 20 amendments, or proposed changes, that came mostly from opponents.
The bill’s author, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, a Collin County Republican, says she expects a court challenge.
She says she studied the results of abortion legislation in other states and worked to avoid legal pitfalls including a claim that the fetus is viable at 20 weeks of pregnancy.
She says that’s why her bill instead claims a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, which is something bill opponents dispute.
“I’m basing it on pain,” said Laubenberg. “I do believe that given new information the courts will be open to that,” she said.
So even though the abortion debate continues in Austin, both sides are considering what happens after the Texas legislature votes.