Dramatic filibuster kills abortion-limits bill, ends first special session

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The eyes of the world were on the Texas Senate on June 25 when Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, staged a dramatic and poignant protest to a bill that would have created some of the strongest abortion limits in the nation.

Her 13-hour stand, watched online by hundreds of thousands of viewers as her filibuster went viral on social media, succeeded in killing the bill, if only for a little while.

The special session ended at midnight as wild cheering from abortion-rights supporters in the Senate gallery, the Capitol rotunda and on the Capitol steps echoed through the halls and lasted into the early morning hours.

“Today was an example of government for the people, by the people and of the people,” Davis told her supporters after the filibuster, wearing sneakers and a back brace. “And you all are the reason that happened. You were the voices we were speaking for today.”

The bill would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would have created sweeping changes to the standards of care that must be followed by facilities that provide abortions—changes that opponents said would have shut down 37 of the state’s 42 clinics.

A frustrated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst complained about what he called the “unruly mob” that helped Democrats delay the vote until midnight by disrupting floor proceedings, and he hinted that he would see them all again soon.

Bills that died along with the abortion bill included one related to highway funding and one to change the juvenile justice code that lawmakers said was necessary to comply with recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session to begin at 2 p.m. July 1. He has placed the abortion, transportation and juvenile justice bills back on the call for the second special session.

Lawmakers did adopt redistricting maps, which were the reason the session was originally called. Perry did not add abortion to the agenda until halfway through the special session.

Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, said he was disappointed that transportation funding and the juvenile justice bill did not get done and, as a supporter of the abortion bill, said he wanted that to pass as well.

Before Perry had called the second special session, Gonzales said he hoped it would be later in the summer because lawmakers are “spent,” he said.

“It was a long six months,” Gonzales said. “For those of us who traveled around the state on redistricting, it was an even longer 30 days. People are tired, emotions are raw, and I think whatever he does, I hope he takes into consideration that the lawmakers need a little time.”

Out of time

Davis and her Democratic colleagues in the Senate were able to kill the abortion bill simply by running out the clock.

By law, a special session can last only 30 days. The bill did not get to the Senate for final passage until about 11 a.m. June 25—the last day of the session—giving Davis a 13-hour window to talk the bill to death.

The rules of the Senate require that she remain standing and talking about the bill—no sitting, no leaning, no help, no bathroom breaks. Davis wore running shoes and donned a back brace.

She read emails from bill opponents, told stories of women who did not get to testify on the bill in committee, read the legislation itself and made arguments against the bill.

Throughout the evening, the Senate gallery was full and overflowing with hundreds of Davis supporters filling the rotunda and all three interior balconies.

Democratic senators wore orange, as did most of the protesters, the color chosen to represent Davis’ fight. At one point, more than 200,000 people were watching The Texas Tribune‘s live feed of the event, and Davis was getting support on Twitter from celebrities, international advocates and President Barack Obama. The Twitter hashtag #standwithwendy trended nationally.

Ending the filibuster

Republicans were able to end Davis’ filibuster with two hours left in the session by deciding that her discussion of the state’s new sonogram law—which passed during the previous regular session and requires women seeking abortions to get sonograms—was off-topic.

Her fellow Democrats tag-teamed the delay by asking for points of clarification, asking parliamentary questions, protesting the rulings of the leadership and demanding to be recognized for their questions.

When it appeared that Democrats were running out of steam because of the rulings of Dewhurst and his Republican colleagues, hundreds of protestors in the Senate gallery above the floor began yelling and chanting, disrupting the proceedings for more than 15 minutes and running out the clock.

Amid the confusion, lawmakers attempted to take a final vote on the bill. Noise from the crowd drowned out the roll call, and when the clock struck midnight, the final vote remained unclear.

Around 3 a.m., Dewhurst returned to the floor to declare that the 19-10 vote in favor of the bill had not been taken before the midnight deadline and had therefore not passed.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, an ardent supporter of the bill, said it was leadership’s fault that the bill came to them late enough in the session to be killed.

“On the Senate side, we were flying by the seat of our pants without any leadership,” Patrick said in a statement on Facebook. “That is why we failed. It wasn’t because of the mob.”

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