Amid protests, Texas passes law setting strictest standards on abortion

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Texas Senate late on Friday approved a Bill setting some of the strictest limits on abortion in the United States, just weeks after a filibuster by opposition Democrats dramatically thwarted the measure.

The Bill - similar to the one that state Senator Wendy Davis helped block in a 13-hour filibuster on June 25 - was approved 19-11, with one Democrat joining the Republican majority, local media reported.

Ms Davis became a national hero for Democrats and supporters of abortion rights. Pro-choice advocates filled the spectator gallery on Friday and held rallies outside, but were unable to prevent the Bill from being approved.

Republican Governor Rick Perry has vowed to sign the Bill into law.

"Today, the Texas legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life," Mr Perry tweeted. "This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health."

The Bill includes a ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks after conception, unless the woman's health is in imminent danger. It sets strict requirements for doctors performing abortions and mandates that a doctor must be present when a woman takes a pill to induce an abortion.

Texas media reported that police scuffled with noisy protesters who resisted eviction from the spectator gallery. Some protesters even chained themselves to the railing to avoid being dragged out.

During the June 25 session, a raucous gallery crowd was key in preventing the vote from being held on time. During that vote there were too many activists for police to control, but on Friday the capitol was swarming with state troopers.

Police also checked bags and took out items that could be thrown, including bottles suspected of containing excrement and urine, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"I listen to the word of God in this issue," said Republican Senator Dan Patrick, a supporter of the Bill. "Are we a nation that stands for a Judeo-Christian ethic, or are we not?"

Democrat Royce West vowed a legal challenge on the Senate floor. "There will be a lawsuit. I promise you," Mr West said, raising his right hand as if taking an oath, according to local media.

Pro-choice activists say the new measure will force all but five of Texas's 42 abortion providers to close.

Abortion has been legal in the United States since the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case. However, in recent years conservatives in state and local offices have passed several measures aimed at curbing the practice.

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