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Texas passing laws, but not leading abortion fight this time

PAUL J. WEBER
FILE - This April 19, 2019, file photo shows a Planned Parenthood building in Houston. A federal appeals court is about to again take up the issue of whether and how states can cut off federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. Arguments are set for Tuesday, May 14. (Godofredo A Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sidestepping bigger abortion battles playing out elsewhere in the U.S., Texas Republicans on Friday pushed a bill toward Gov. Greg Abbott's desk that would ban the state's liberal capital city from leasing a downtown building to Planned Parenthood for just $1.

For Texas, which has passed some of the nation's strictest anti-abortion laws over the past decade, the measure that was largely provoked by a single Planned Parenthood office in Austin is one of the few bills aimed at abortion providers that appears likely to pass the GOP-controlled Legislature before lawmakers adjourn this month.

In 2013, Texas passed a sweeping anti-abortion law that shuttered more than half the state's abortion clinics before being struck down three years later by the U.S. Supreme Court, which at the time handed down its strongest defense of abortion rights in a generation .

But Texas Republicans this year have conspicuously stayed on the sidelines. They've instead let other conservative states lead efforts squarely aimed at the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

That includes Alabama's new abortion ban passed this week, along with measures in Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia and Ohio that prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Democrats said the latest bill passed by the Texas House, although smaller in scale, would still have significant ramifications and disrupt women's health services. The Austin Planned Parenthood location that leases a city-owned space for $1 a year does not offer abortion.

"It would not impact abortion services," said Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis, who stood with Democrats during the floor debate. She said the bill instead was a "statement that the Texas Legislature is so anti-abortion we're going to prove it by hurting women."

Democrats tried derailing the bill through procedural measures during a debate that dragged on for hours in the waning days of Texas' 140-day legislative session, which is set to adjourn May 27. The measure prohibits a government entity from entering into a "taxpayer resource transaction" with an abortion provider or affiliate.

It still must win a final vote in the House before moving to Abbott's desk.

An unusually rough election for Texas Republicans in 2018 has led to a relatively milder legislative session. And this year, some anti-abortion groups in Texas signaled they wanted to focus on bills that stood a better a chance in court.

Another that is also close to Abbott's desk threatens doctors with jail time if they don't try saving the lives of infants born alive after failed abortion attempts. But such cases are extremely rare.

On the "heartbeat" bill, Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told a conservative talk radio station this month that it wasn't a high priority to some groups "because it eventually will be decided in the Supreme Court, and they felt some other state cases were moving."

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