Epic One-Woman Filibuster Blocks Radical Anti-Abortion Legislation In Texas

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"Epic One-Woman Filibuster Blocks Radical Anti-Abortion Legislation In Texas"

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) wore a back brace for the final hours of her filibuster (Credit: Dallas News)

Thanks to efforts from hundreds of protesters and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX), an omnibus abortion bill did not win legislative approval from Texas lawmakers early on Wednesday morning. Republicans conceded that their vote to end Davis’ 13-hour filibuster on the legislation didn’t make the midnight deadline, when Texas’ special session officially concluded.

The proposed legislation, SB 5, would have criminalized abortion after 20 weeks and forced all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors. Because of Texas’ size and population, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards warned that SB 5 would amount to a “virtual ban” on abortion services in the state.

In order to block SB 5 from passing the Senate and heading to Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) desk before midnight on Tuesday, Davis filibustered the legislation for more than 12 hours. Under Texas’ Senate rules, Davis was not allowed to sit, lean against a desk, eat, drink, go to the restroom, or talk about anything unrelated to SB 5 during this time. At several times on Tuesday night, Republican legislators contended that she was breaking the rules of the filibuster. Once, they complained that another lawmaker helped Davis put on a back brace. Later, they claimed that discussions of Planned Parenthood and ultrasound procedures were off-topic.

Shortly before 11 pm, after Davis’ fellow lawmakers believed she had violated the terms of the filibuster three times, they attempted to end it. The crowd erupted in protest, shouting “Let her speak!” and chanting Davis’ name:

As a group of male officials discussed the parliamentary procedure that would decide the fate of Davis’ filibuster, her colleague Sen. Leticia Van Putte (D) wondered, “At one point does a female lawmaker raise her hand to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

The Senate eventually voted to put an end to Davis’ filibuster. There was dispute over whether that vote began before the midnight deadline. Democrats claimed it began at 12:02 or 12:03 am on Wednesday, and Republicans disagreed. Despite the disagreement, the Senate held a full vote in the early hours of the morning and approved SB 5 by 19 to 10.

But around 3:00 am, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R) — who already amended some of the rules for the special session to allow lawmakers to more easily push through SB 5 — declared that the bill would not be able to be signed in the presence of the Senate. Thanks to “all the ruckus and noise going on” in the capitol building, Dewhurst said it wasn’t quiet enough to sign the bill, and blamed “an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics” for disrupting the Senate’s work. The New York Times notes that although the legislature’s official website first declared the Senate’s vote on the filibuster took place on Wednesday, that date was later changed to Tuesday.

Davis also conducted a successful filibuster in 2011 in an attempt to prevent Texas from cutting public education. Early on Wednesday morning, she called SB 5’s defeat “an incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them.”

Update

On Wednesday evening at about 5 pm, Gov. Rick Perry (R) called for a second special session that will begin on July 1. SB 5 will be up for consideration again. This time, the same tactics may not be able to successfully block it.

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