April 6, 2017 / 9:14 AM / in 4 months

Abortion rights activists rally at Texas Capitol against restrictions

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Claire Contreras, 30, reacts as she listens to Former State Senator Wendy Davis speak during a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2017.Ilana Panich-Linsman

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Hundreds of abortion rights activists rallied at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday, saying a raft of proposed legislation placing restrictions on the procedure in the most populous Republican-controlled state would endanger millions of women.

Lawmakers in Texas, which vaulted to the forefront of the national abortion debate when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 struck down a previous set of the state's restrictions, are looking in the current session to pass bills that include a ban on a common form of second-trimester abortions.

Last month, the Texas Senate also approved a so-called wrongful birth bill. The measure shields doctors from lawsuits if they withhold information about potential fetal abnormalities if they believe the information may prompt the parents to seek an abortion. Supporters say the measure protects the sanctity of life.

Former Texas state Senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat who gained fame for her 2013 filibuster against the state’s abortion restrictions, told the rally that social conservatives have been emboldened by the election of Republican Donald Trump as president and "hell-bent" on holding women back.

"Now, we are facing the worst political attacks on women’s health in a generation," she said on the Capitol steps in front of supporters holding pink signs reading "Don't take away our care."

A demonstrator holds up a placard during a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2017.Ilana Panich-Linsman

Other proposed restrictions include a bill to halt insurance coverage for abortions and make women pay a separate premium if they wanted coverage. The bill won initial approval in the state Senate last month.

Supporters said the measure allows those who oppose abortion to prevent their money from subsidizing the procedure while critics said it would hurt poorer women who could not afford the coverage.

Slideshow (4 Images)

"Texas is one of the most active states in the current legislative session in terms of abortion restrictions," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group.

The Texas legislature meets once every two years and with the current session set to finish at the end of May, analysts are unsure how many of the restrictions might be enacted by the Republican-dominated body, where attention is now focused on passing a two-year budget.

Many at the rally were critical of the plans of national and state Republican leaders including calls to defund Planned Parenthood.

A U.S. judge in Austin issued a preliminary injunction in February halting Texas' plan to cut Medicaid funding, saying the state did not present evidence of a program violation that would warrant termination.

Editing by Matthew Lewis

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