AUSTIN -- The Texas House returned with heavy eyelids Monday morning for a final vote on sweeping new abortion laws.
"The standards that are proposed brings abortion providers, physicians and facilities up to the standard that is commonplace throughout the rest of medicine," state Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), a Houston-area neurologist, told members before the vote to send Senate Bill 5 back to the upper chamber.
The night before saw hundreds of abortion rights supporters pack the Texas Capitol. The debate ran over controversial abortion legislation lasted from Sunday evening until 3:30 a.m. Monday, with House Democrats using their smaller number to delay a vote they argue would make safe abortions for many women nearly impossible.
The House finally adjourned around 4:30 a.m. after tentatively approving SB 5, as well as legislation to fund roads and address sentencing requirements for 17-year-old capital offenders. Lawmakers returned after 6:00 a.m. absent a quorum, with most of the House Democratic Caucus returning several hours later. The final vote shortly after 10:00 a.m. was largely divided along party lines.
"Unfortunately the kind of legislation that just passed the house is the kind of thing that takes us back, the kind of thing that restricts access" state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said after Monday morning's vote. "And the unfortunate outcome of that is that in desperate situations, women seek unsafe abortions, and we actually see greater incidences of severe illness and sometimes death."
"This bill passing to me just a milestone in our state," said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), who led the legislation's defense Sunday night. Laubenberg and other supporters maintain more restrictive facilities requirements for abortion clinics, regulations for physicians and restrictions on abortions performed after 20 weeks aren't about banning abortion in Texas.
"It is about women's health. Those parts of the bill were about women's health. The 20-week ban is truly about the pain of a five-month-old baby going through an abortion," said Laubenberg, confident the legislation will be approved in the state Senate before the special session ends Tuesday night at midnight. "I expect the bill to pass. I expect to be at the governor's signing of the bill."
Now the focus turns to the state Senate, where Democrats hope to filibuster the legislation up to the deadline. Republicans Monday aimed to suspend the rules requiring the bill lay out for 24 hours after returning from the House with amendments before it can be voted on. To do so would require a vote of two-thirds of the members present, otherwise the bill could be taken up no sooner than 11:00 a.m. Tuesday.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) voted for SB 5 on its original passage through the Senate, and was initially expected to vote with Senate Republicans to suspend the rules. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) had returned to her district to attend funeral services for her father, who passed away Friday after a car accident.
Van de Putte's absence along with Lucio's support would give Republicans the votes necessary to suspend the rules, but Lucio voted with fellow Democrats against a motion to do so Monday evening. The 19-11 vote fell short of what was needed to suspend the rules, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas) announced such a motion could be made again at any point.