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Abortion bill passes in Texas

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AUSTIN – The Texas Senate passed sweeping new abortion restrictions late Friday, sending them to Republican Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law after weeks of protests and rallies that drew thousands of people to the Capitol and made the state the focus of the national abortion debate.

Republicans used their large majority in the Texas Legislature to pass the bill nearly three weeks after a filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and an outburst by abortion-rights activists in the Senate gallery disrupted a deadline vote June 25.

Called back for a new special session by Perry, lawmakers took up the bill again as thousands of supporters and opponents held rallies and jammed the Capitol to testify at public hearings.

The bill requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allows abortions only in surgical centers and bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion-rights supporters say the bill will close all but five abortion clinics in Texas, leaving large areas of vast state without abortion services.

Anti-abortion groups insisted their primary goal was to protect women’s health while reducing the number of abortions in Texas. According to state figures, about 72,000 abortions were performed in Texas in 2011, less than 400 after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Perry, a Republican who said last week he won’t seek a fourth full term in office in 2014, has said he will sign the bill.

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