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Filibuster could halt Texas abortion bill vote

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AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) - The clock is ticking toward a vote in the Texas Senate on strict abortion regulations. Republicans pushed Monday to enact wide-ranging restrictions that would shut down many of the state's abortion clinics and make it more difficult for Texas woman to receive an abortion. But a historic filibuster in Austin could stand in the way.

Tensions have been mounting at the State Capitol, as lawmakers have clashed over efforts to pass one of the toughest abortion laws in the country. After the Texas House easily approved Senate Bill 5 on Monday morning, the anti-abortion legislation must now get through a Senate vote. But the special session is set to end at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday night, turning the bill's approval into a race against the clock.

Democrats are planning to stage a marathon filibuster at the State Capitol to stop the final vote, with Fort Worth's Sen. Wendy Davis promising to deliver a 13-hour speech in order to block the bill's passage. The filibuster is expected to start as soon as Republicans call for the vote to begin. But pulling off such a long filibuster will not be easy.

Davis must speak continuously — and stay on topic — the entire time. She is not allowed to lean against something for support. And she will not be able to stop or take a break, not even for meals or the restroom, during the entire 13-hour ordeal. But, if she can be successful in running down the clock, it is the only way for Democrats to block the vote.

Davis offered some insight to her plans Monday night on Twitter. "The leadership may not want to listen to TX women, but they will have to listen to me. I intend to filibuster this bill," she said. "Stand with me tomorrow, and share your story with me so I can tell it from the Senate floor."

Texas is just the latest of several conservative states to try to pass tough laws on abortion, but the scope of this bill is notable because of the state's large size. With a population of 26 million people, this measure — the most stringent set of laws in the nation — would impact the greatest number of people. "If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the State of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

Those who support the bill, however, insist that it is aimed at improving the safety of women seeking an abortion. The first requirement of the bill is for all abortions to take place in surgical centers designed to handle any possible life-threatening complications. Not all abortion centers across the state meet that requirement, and would have to spend millions of dollars to reach the new standards. As a result, only five centers — in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and two in Houston — would likely remain open.

Other parts of the legislation make it more difficult for women to receive an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and place restrictions on when and where an abortion can take place. Gov. Rick Perry has already said that he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

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