Texas lawmakers are thanking God and their constituents for the anti-abortion legislation Gov. Rick Perry signed into law today.
Perry signed the bill, which critics say may force closure of abortion clinics, after debate over the legislation sparked the most political activism in Texas in decades. Perry told supporters the law wasn’t possible “without your prayers” during a ceremony at a capitol auditorium in Austin.
“It really was the hand of God,” Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said during the ceremony.
“The power of prayer that day was immense,” said Sen. Glenn Hegar, another Republican sponsor, referring to the July 12 vote.
Texas lawmakers last week approved a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks and requiring that abortion clinics become hospital-like outpatient surgical centers. Thousands of advocates and opponents visited the capitol for hearings and debates lasting past midnight on several evenings.
Owners of the state’s 36 clinics say they will need to spend millions of dollars adding features such as showers, single-sex locker rooms and special airflow systems to meet the new rules, which take effect in September 2014. Six surgical centers now perform abortions in Texas, the second-most populous state.
Perry was joined on stage today by about 45 lawmakers and approximately 50 anti-abortion leaders and ministers were in attendance. The lawmakers were Republicans except for Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democratic from Brownsville.
Outside the room, about 30 protesters dressed in black chanted “shame, shame, shame.”
“For those who might be outside chanting, those who don’t agree with us, we love you, we love you just as much as we love those unborn babies,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said at the ceremony.
The bill protects women’s health by requiring stricter standards for clinics, while promising to save thousands of lives of unborn children by banning abortions after 20 weeks, Perry said.
“We’ve heard far too many stories from Philadelphia to Houston and elsewhere about reckless doctors performing abortions in horrendous conditions,” said Perry, who called a special session of the legislature to consider the abortion measure.
Perry’s leadership on abortion will “go down as a key part of your legacy as governor,” Dewhurst said. Perry said last week he will not run for a fourth term as governor.
Perry and other speakers praised churches and anti-abortion groups for fomenting grassroots support for the bill. Attendees included Rev. John Hagee, a television evangelist whose Cornerstone Church in San Antonio has more than 20,000 members, according to its website.
“Anyone who opposes this bill is a tool of Satan,” Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said in an interview. Abortion should be outlawed, said Jeffress, whose church has more than 10,000 members. “The Bible is very clear and this is a basic issue about the sanctity of life.”
Opponents said Texas’ action will prompt clinic closings that will force some Texas women to drive hundreds of miles for family planning services.
“This bill will severely limit access to safe and legal abortion, which will cause women to resort to desperate and dangerous measures,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement.
Opponents have pledged to file lawsuits to block Texas’ bill, Richards said, following litigation in other states that have passed similar measures.
Perry and supporters chose “narrow partisan special interests over mothers, daughters, sisters and every Texan who puts the health of their family, the well-being of their neighbors and the future of Texas ahead of politics and personal ambitions,” Sen. Wendy Davis said in an e-mailed statement. Davis, a Democrat who is considering running for governor in 2014, spoke for more than 11 hours in a filibuster that temporarily delayed the bill’s passage.