by Mary Tuma
Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) successfully filibusters a sweeping anti-abortion bill. Photo by Mary Tuma.
*UPDATE* This afternoon, Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session to take up abortion- related legislation once again
Filibuster by Democratic Senator Kills the Anti-Abortion Bill
Live Tweeting #TXLege Abortion Bills #SB5 #HB60
House Approves Anti-Abortion Bill Despite Hundreds of Protestors
The Texas Senate gallery erupted in deafening applause, chants, and clapping as the clock edged toward midnight – the deadline for state lawmakers to decide on the fate of a bill that would essentially decimate access to abortion in Texas.
Hundreds of pro-choice advocates filled the Capitol on Tuesday, waiting in a line that stretched at least two floors of the building and began outside. They came to show their opposition to the bill and support the efforts of state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) who mounted a filibuster to kill the onerous legislation on the last day it could be heard, as the Current reported earlier. Along with Davis’ floor testimony, their noises of protest hoped to further delay a final vote, but the question of whether or not that was the case remained unclear well past midnight.
After her nearly 13-hour filibuster, broken up by reprimands for using a back brace and supposedly veering off topic, Davis was met with a final rebuke from co-author of the bill State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) for talking about the state’s pre-abortion sonogram law – which apparently isn’t relevant to an abortion bill according to some GOP Senators. While most thought the filibuster had prevailed and a vote was out of reach, in the last minutes, and amid the thunderous noise from the crowd, the Republican-led Senate voted in favor the draconian legislation.
But the exact time of the vote, while seemingly trivial, made all the difference. If Senators voted after 12 a.m., the vote wouldn’t be valid because the Legislative special session officially ended at midnight. While the initial record vote shows the action took place on June 26, some lawmakers contend the date was later manipulated.
“At first the date said 6/26, now it says 6/25,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) after the vote. “If you’re determined to have a certain outcome, the rules can go out the window.” View another of Sen. Van de Putte's instantly quotable lines here.
While a definite answer remained in limbo for some time, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst eventually declared the bill dead– a fact he says was a result of an “unruly mob” (aka pro-choice advocates vocalizing their opposition), who employed “Occupy Wall Street tactics.”
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) did not consider the legislation passed before a final ruling and like other Senators, anticipated the bill would face a constitutional challenge. It’s also questionable to take a vote on the floor when no one can hear, said Watson, alluding to the gallery chants that drowned out the vote call.
But Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and author of anti-abortion legislation, had a different take on the swell of citizen activism, calling the impassioned vocal opposition “inappropriate.” When asked by the Current if it bothered him that the vote was inaudible to the public, Patrick replied, “Well, the Senators heard it.”
“This is not democracy. We should not have a prolonged outburst like that,” said Patrick, to which Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen) shot back, “people have the right to express themselves.”
Hundreds of pro-choice advocates line the Capitol to protest abortion restrictions. Photo by Mary Tuma
Outside the chambers, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President and daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards, galvanized the hundreds of protestors under the Capitol rotunda. The native Texan told the Current the immense show of public opposition at the dome felt unprecedented. Despite all the political wrangling and partisanship, the public won out at the end, she said.
“After the games, trickery, cutting off the mics– it was no match for the people,” Richards told the Current. “What we’ve seen here today is extraordinary, we [the protestors] were out here supporting them inside and they [the Democrats] had our back inside.”
Meanwhile, Davis, exhausted from standing sans any breaks (including food and bathroom respite) for hours on end, said she was "overwhelmed" by the support, “It shows the determination of Texas women. And I’m one of them.”
When asked if the 13 hours of delaying a vote paid off despite the– at first–nebulous outcome, Davis adamantly replied, “It was worth it.