AUSTIN (AP) — The Texas Senate was poised to cast a final vote on tough new abortion restrictions after a committee approved the measure Thursday, and top Republicans and Democrats acknowledged there is little to stop it from becoming law this time.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst scheduled the vote for Friday afternoon, less than two weeks after the GOP-led Senate failed to finish work on the bill during a chaotic end to the first special session. Senators were expected to offer amendments and debate the virtues and dangers of imposing some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country.
It could be Saturday morning before senators actually cast their votes if debate lingers through the night.
During the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing Thursday, Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, offered amendments that would have added exceptions in cases of rape or incest and helped keep open clinics that also provide other women's health services, such as check-ups and contraception. The Republican majority rejected each amendment, just as it has rejected any attempt to modify the bill since it was introduced.
As senators on the committee cast their votes, a group of protesters began singing, "No, we're not going to take it," the refrain from a 1984 rock song by Twisted Sister. State troopers escorted them out of the hearing as the senators finished the 6-3 vote along strict party lines.
Democrats acknowledge House Bill 2 will become law, saying there is little they can do to stop the Republican majority. But groups will challenge the law's constitutionality in federal court.
"We do not have the numbers to stop it," said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. "As soon as it's signed by the governor, it will be challenged ... we believe the whole bill is unconstitutional."
Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, who chairs the committee, said she expected a lengthy debate on the Senate floor on Friday afternoon, and she hoped there would be no interruptions. On the final day of the first special session, the Republican majority cut short a filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, triggering a 20-minute protest in the gallery that prevented the bill from becoming law.
Nelson rejected criticism that the bill was part of a "war on women."
"This bill is trying to end a war on babies that is taking place," Nelson said.
There are 24 days left in the current special session, so there is no possibility for a filibuster and Democrats have dismissed suggestion that they flee the state to break quorum. However each of the 31 senators may speak on the bill Friday afternoon and the gallery holds 467 people.
The Department of Public Safety has more than doubled security at the Capitol and Republican leaders have said they will clear the gallery if anyone tries to disrupt the Senate again.
"I hope we don't get to that point but if we do, we do. This is a democracy and we will not be interrupted from doing the people's work by an unruly mob," Dewhurst said.
Also on Thursday, Dewhurst welcomed support from former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who visited the Capitol to express support for the measure.
"I wanted to come down here because I wanted to stand with these men and women who are doing something great for our country, shining a light into this darkness," Santorum said. "The country is watching ... and I think many around the world are watching."
If passed Friday, the bill immediately goes to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature. Perry has made the bill a priority, calling two special legislative sessions to pass it.