(The Texas Tribune) — The last traces of harmony in this year's legislative session faded Sunday as Texas lawmakers advanced what have been called some of the strictest abortion regulations in the nation.
Early Monday morning, with less than 48 hours remaining in the special session, the Texas House gave early approval to legislation that abortion-rights advocates say would impose undue burdens on women seeking the procedure and close 37 of the state's 42 abortion clinics.
The drama started Sunday afternoon, when the outnumbered House Democrats — buoyed by hundreds of orange-shirted supporters who had filled the chamber's gallery — began using parliamentary maneuvers to try to stall debate on the legislation, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The delay, they hoped, would slow the bill's trip to the Senate, where a filibuster could be staged in the final hours of the special session.
After several hours of attempts by Democrats to derail or amend the bill, Republicans, who say the legislation will raise safety standards, voted to cut off debate and tentatively approved the measure.
"This bill will ensure that women are given the highest standard of health care in a very vulnerable time in their life," said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored abortion legislation in the chamber.
Democrats, meanwhile, praised the protesters for their dedication. "We fought like dogs," state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, told a crowd of the activists, adding, "It really mattered what you did."
The House adjourned at about 4:30 a.m. and is set to reconvene just before 7 a.m. Final approval in the House will send the legislation to the Senate, which must wait 24 hours to take up the bill again. Democrats have not dropped their threats to filibuster the bill.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Sunday night that Gov. Rick Perry would likely call lawmakers back for a second special session if certain bills didn't pass, though Dewhurst didn't specify which ones. "I believe there are certain items on this call that he shared with me are must-pass," Dewhurst said.