AUSTIN, Texas — With the Texas Senate poised to pass sweeping abortion restrictions, a protest briefly halted debate Friday night before the chamber's leader ordered officers to remove those disrupting the proceedings.
Four women tried to chain themselves to a railing in the gallery as senators were about to start closing statements on an abortion bill that has drawn thousands of protesters to the Capitol for weeks. One of the women succeeded in chaining herself to the railing at the front of the overhead gallery, prompting a 10-minute recess. Officers arrested all four women.
When debate resumed, protesters began loudly singing, "Give choice a chance. All we are saying is give choice a chance." Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst asked officers to remove the group.
Republicans are expected to pass the sweeping bill, with Democrats left to do little more than enter into the legislative record material that could help defeat it in federal court. Democrats have called the GOP proposal unnecessary and unconstitutional.
House Bill 2 would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allow abortions only in surgical centers, limit where and when women may take abortion-inducing pills and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Only five out of 42 existing abortion clinics meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can't afford to upgrade or relocate.
The Senate's approval would send the bill to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he will sign it.
The Senate's debate took place between a packed gallery of demonstrators. Security was tight, and state troopers reported confiscating bottles of urine and feces as they worked to prevent another attempt to stop the Republican majority from passing a proposal that has put Texas at the center of the nation's abortion debate.
The circus-like atmosphere in the Texas Capitol marked the culmination of weeks of protests, the most dramatic of which came June 25 in the final minutes of the last special legislative session, when a Democratic filibuster and subsequent protest prevented the bill from becoming law. Democrats also successfully blocked the bill in the regular legislative session.