At 3 this morning, and following 15 hours of emotional and noisy debate, the Texas House voted 97 to 33 to approve a series of bills which will vastly restrict access to abortion in the state, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Hundreds of pro choice activists, many bussed in by Democratic and progressive groups, stormed the State Capitol in an attempt to stage what has been called a 'people's filibuster.' They hope to delay final consideration of the bill long enough that the Special Session will adjourn before it can be completed.
State Rep Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), one of the leaders of the Pro Choice Caucus, told chanting opponents of the abortion measures that they made a difference, and urged them to continue their fight.
"So bought us 12 more hours in a very limited time," she said. "Stay tuned, this is going to go to the Senate, and who knows what is going to happen over there, but this is not over."
The abortion bills would require that all abortion clinics be staffed by a physician who has admitting authority at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, requires that abortion clinics be classified as mobile surgical centers and, unlike the Senate version, includes a provision limiting abortions to earlier than 20 weeks gestation, on the argument that after that point the fetus can feel pain in the womb.
Opponents say the restrictions, which would be among the toughest in the nation, woudl result in the permanent cllosing of 37 of the state's 42 abortion clinics.
"On a day in which hundreds and hundreds of citizens converged on the Capitol from across the state and remained in the House gallery well into the late house of the night, it is disappointing that the Republican majority would make a motion to cut off discussion on a bill that would have such far reaching implications," said State Rep. Donna Howard (D- Austin), who is also a leader of the Pro Choice Caucus.
The measure still has to face another final vote in the House today, and then it must go to the Senate, which approved it without the so called 'fetal pain provision.'
The Special Session ends at midnight Tuesday, and if it has not passed both chambers by then, the bill will be dead. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst says if that happens, Gov. Rick Perry will call a second Special Session to begin immediately, but all bills would have to be reintroduced.
The debate over abortion has overshadowed the key reason why this Special Session was called. Lawmakers have still not approved a measure to fund transportation projects for the coming two years.