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Texas governor mounts new bid for abortion restrictions

Texas Governor Rick Perry answers questions from the media after taking an aerial tour over the fertilizer plant explosion site in West, Texas, April 19, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Jaime R. Carrero
Texas Governor Rick Perry answers questions from the media after taking an aerial tour over the fertilizer plant explosion site in West, Texas, April 19, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Jaime R. Carrero

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday launched another battle to pass sweeping abortion restrictions after a marathon speech by a Democrat lawmaker briefly halted a bill critics say could shut most abortion clinics in one of the nation's biggest states.

Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, once a teenage mother who went on to earn a Harvard Law degree, was propelled on to the national political stage when she spoke for more than 10 hours to block a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

It proved a short-lived victory for women's groups and abortion rights advocates fighting to stop abortion restrictions across several states. Perry called for another special legislative session to reconsider the proposal on July 1.

"Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn," Perry said in a statement. "We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do."

Davis' filibuster of the Republican supermajority in the Texas legislature was streamed live on some national media websites.

Republicans managed to stop her about two hours before the midnight end to the special legislative session, citing parliamentary procedures, but they were unable to complete voting on the abortion bill before the deadline.

Davis said on Wednesday that a second attempt at a filibuster is unlikely because Republicans are sure to call the bill to a vote with more time to spare.

"If they are smarter about their time management going into this next called session, it's likely we won't have an opportunity to do this again," Davis told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

But even if the bill passes, Davis said her resistance to government interfering in private health decisions will have a lasting impact.

"This will linger," she said.

Analysts say Perry was bound to call lawmakers back for another special session to pass the abortion bill as he is confident it will eventually pass.

"An abortion bill passed both houses. The votes are there. There's no question the votes are there," Texas Republican political strategist Matt Mackowiak he said.

The abortion restrictions passed the House earlier in the week and a version of the proposal that did not include the ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy passed the Senate.

BATTLE ACROSS NATION

If the measure ultimately passes, Texas would become the 13th state to impose a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and by far the most populous. In addition, the legislation would set strict health standards for abortion clinics and restrict the use of drugs to end pregnancy.

Republican backers said the regulation of abortion clinics would protect women's health and that the ban on late-term abortions would protect fetuses, based on disputed research that suggests fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks of development.

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 abortions performed late in 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.

The debate rages across the nation. Twelve states have passed 20-week bans, including two states where the bans take effect later this year, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Courts have blocked the bans in three of the 12 states - Arizona, Georgia and Idaho.

North Dakota's only abortion clinic filed a federal challenge on Tuesday to a new state law, the most restrictive in the country, that would ban procedures to end pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks.

A Philadelphia jury last month convicted abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell of murdering three babies during abortions at a clinic in a high-profile case that focused national attention on late-term abortions.

In Texas, Davis whittled away chunks of time by reading testimony and messages from women and others decrying the legislation, reciting previously suggested changes to the bill and tapping into her own past as a single mother at 19.

She said the bill would have choked off her own access to a local Planned Parenthood clinic.

"I was a poor, uninsured woman, whose only care was provided through that facility. It was my medical home," said Davis, 50, several hours into her marathon speech.

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Stacey Joyce)

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