Texas has banned abortion beyond the 20th week of pregnancy in a new law that has been welcomed by pro-life leaders.
The new law, which Governor Rick Perry signed into law during a ceremony on Wednesday, also requires abortion clinics to be certified as surgical centers and increases regulations on doctors and abortion-inducing drugs.
Jeff Patterson, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, said the law protects life by requiring no termination of pregnancies after the first 20 weeks and it improves standards for abortion facilities.
He said: “Twenty weeks is five months — that’s late term and a point where babies can feel pain. The higher standards for abortion clinics are in case there are complications or problems that occur when providing abortions.”
The stricter regulations for doctors and the abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 are to ensure they follow Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Mr Patterson said: “A lot of doctors don’t follow the prescription guidelines. It means two separate visits, but that’s to make sure there are no problems.”
The measure also requires that doctors performing abortions have hospital privileges within 30 miles of the facility in which the abortion is performed, so that if there are complications she can be taken to hospital immediately.
According to the Texas Department of Health, there were five deaths out of 937,818 abortions performed between 2000 and 2011, the last death being in 2008.
For pro-life groups, the legislation is another incremental step in ending abortion. In 2011, Texas legislators passed a bill requiring a woman seeking an abortion to receive a sonogram from the doctor who is to perform the procedure at least 24 hours before the abortion.
This latest legislation attracted national and international media attention following a filibuster by Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who attempted to kill the Bill during the last day of the debate. Governor Perry then called a second special session and added abortion to the agenda.
Marie Seale, director of the Diocese of Austin Office of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living, said the filibuster got the attention of pro-life supporters and brought them out to the Capitol in large numbers for the second special session.
She said: “People were wildly upset about what Wendy Davis did to legislation in the first special session. When pro-lifers saw the vote being taken from them, they riled up.”
Seale said that pro-life supporters realised their presence was needed in large numbers and they were moved to take action.
“It means being inconvenienced, packing lunches and getting at line early in the morning,” she told the Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Austin Diocese. “That’s what really what Christian life is supposed to be: a call to action.”
Although the church, the Texas Catholic Conference and other pro-life groups regularly ask people to make their presence known, this was a grass-roots effort to get as many pro-life supporters to the Capitol as possible. Laypeople got on Facebook and called on friends and other pro-life people they knew to show up dressed in blue at the Capitol.
Pro-life groups also want expansion and funding of crisis pregnancy centers and an end to regulatory requirements that prevent the centers from providing options other than abortion, as well as social services that will allow a woman to keep her child.