After nearly four hours of divisive debate, the Texas Senate voted along party lines Monday in favor of a Republican-backed measure that would tighten rules for teenagers unable to get the required parental consent for an abortion.
The bill, which won preliminary approval on a 21-10 Senate vote, drastically changes the process that allows girls under 18 to get a court-ordered abortion if they meet certain criteria. Among the changes are requiring women to show ID to prove they are under 18, extending the required time that a judge must rule on a teen's application and the removal of a caveat that allows abuse to serve as criteria for an application.
The measure now faces a final, procedural vote. It has already cleared the Texas House, but lawmakers from both chambers will have to agree on tweaks before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott.
"The bill's purpose is to prohibit a physician from performing an abortion on an underage child without their parent's consent, or legal court order authorizing the minor to consent to an abortion," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said. "Protecting the life of the unborn is one of the most important acts we can take as elected officials.
Republican sponsor Charles Perry deflected a dozen amendments from Democrats that would have loosened the restrictions. Perry said the significant changes to the so-called judicial bypass process are meant to clarify judicial issues and protect young women.
"This is, No. 1, for the minor's benefit," he said.
Opponents say the bill stifles the process established in 1999 that allows about 300 pregnant teenagers in Texas to terminate their pregnancy in extreme situations every year. It also unfairly harms young women when they most need help, opponents say.
"Is one of your goals to reduce abortions?" Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson asked Perry.
No, the Lubbock Republican replied.
But immediately after the vote, anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life posted on Twitter, "Another (hash)ProLife victory in the State Senate."
Several senators feared that the delay in a judge's decision wouldn't pass constitutional muster. Democratic Sen. Jose Rodriguez said the delays "infringes upon constitutional rights."
The Supreme Court has ruled that parents may not have an absolute veto over a daughter's decision to end a pregnancy and that judges must move expeditiously.
While Perry toned down a requirement that pregnant women are presumed to be minors unless they have a valid identification, his bill does require physicians to verify a woman's identity and age. Among the accepted forms of identification are driver's licenses from the U.S. and Canada, but not Mexico.
Nonprofit advocacy group Jane's Due Process, established two years after the process became law, said after the bill passed that they will consider legal action if the bill becomes law.
"The bill is rife with constitutional problems," wrote Susan Hays, the organization's legal director, in an emailed statement.