AUSTIN, Texas, June 24 (Reuters) - The Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives gave preliminary approval early Monday to sweeping restrictions on abortions, including a ban on most after 20 weeks of pregnancy and stricter standards for clinics.
Supporters of the measure said it was needed to protect women’s health and to keep fetuses from feeling pain, while opponents have said it would cause nearly all the state’s abortion clinics to close or be completely rebuilt.
“Sadly, too often today the back-alley abortion is the abortion clinic because the standards for providers and the facilities are too lax or substandard,” the measure’s House sponsor, Representative Jodie Laubenberg, told colleagues early Monday. “This bill will assure that women are given the highest standard of healthcare.”
The vote was 97-33, mostly along party lines. The measure would need final approval from the House before it could return to the Senate, which passed a version of the bill without the 20-week ban.
Republicans are racing to send the measure to Governor Rick Perry, who supports restricting abortion, before the end of the special legislative session on Tuesday.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, but conservative states have enacted laws in recent years that seek to place restrictions on the procedure, especially on those late in the pregnancy.
Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill banning abortions 20 weeks after fertilization. The measure is extremely unlikely to become law because Democrats control the U.S. Senate and the White House.
Similar to the federal measure, the 20-week provision of the Texas proposal is based on controversial medical research that suggests a fetus starts to feel pain at that point.
The Texas proposal would allow exemptions for abortions to save a woman’s life and in cases of severe fetal abnormalities.
Planned Parenthood said the stricter requirements for abortion facilities would reduce the number of clinics in Texas from 42 to five.
State Representative Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat who unsuccessfully proposed an exemption for victims of rape and incest, waved a coat hanger on the floor of the House, warning that such objects would be used to perform abortions if the measure becomes law.
“There are going to be more people ending up in the hospital DOA (dead on arrival) for trying to do the abortions themselves,” Thompson said during the debate. (Editing by Dina Kyriakidou; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)