US & Canada

Texas abortion battle resumes amid mass protest

Wendy Davis (in red dress) outside the state Capitol in Austin, Texas 1 July 2013
Image caption Her filibuster has made Senator Wendy Davis (centre) a heroine of the US abortion rights movement

The state legislature in Texas has held a second special session to revive a controversial bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The session was called by Republican Governor Rick Perry after a Democratic senator used a delaying tactic called a filibuster to block a vote last week.

Supporters say the strict law would protect women's health and the foetus.

Critics say the measure would effectively force most abortion clinics to close.

'Turning point in history'

More than 5,000 demonstrators gathered outside the state capitol in Austin on Monday, mostly to oppose the proposed legislation.

Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis told the crowds their raucous support last Tuesday helped her to pull off the filibuster, which lasted for about 12 hours.

"You were at the crux of a turning point in Texas history," Sen Davis told them.

But Texas Republicans have vowed to pass the bill.

"The world has seen images of pro-abortion activists screaming, cheering," Gov Perry said. "Going forward, we have to match their intensity but do it with grace and civility."

Among the demonstrators who turned out on Monday were those who favour the legislation. They prayed outside the Senate.

The proposed bill would ban abortions in Texas after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and require that only ambulatory surgical centres can carry out the procedure.

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Media captionSenator Wendy Davis had to stay on topic and remain standing during the filibuster

It would also only allow abortions to be performed by doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Only five of the 42 clinics in the state meet those requirements.

On Monday, the legislative session lasted for less than an hour - just long enough to refer the bill to a committee.

After that, public hearings on the measure must be held before it can come to the floor of each chamber for consideration.

Republican lawmakers have indicated they will try to move the bill along quickly, so it can be passed before the end of the 30-day special session.

Last week's filibuster drew nationwide attention and made Sen Davis a heroine of the US abortion rights movement.

The US Supreme Court legalised abortion nationwide in 1973, but about a dozen conservative states have enacted laws in recent years that seek to limit the procedure.

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