The Texas Abortion Bill Massacre
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 6/26/13, 05:08 pm
UPDATE (7:14 p.m.): Gov. Rick Perry has ordered the Texas state Legislature to meet July 1 to begin 30 more days of work. Like the first special session, which ended in chaos last night, the second session will include on its agenda the Republican-backed abortion bill.
OUR EARLIER REPORT: The ending of the Texas Senate’s special session last night could have been pulled straight from a movie.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, stood on the floor of the Senate in a pale suit and pink tennis shoes. She filibustered for close to 12 hours without a single break—not to eat, not to sit down, not even to use the restroom. Republicans had the votes they needed to pass their abortion bill, but not the time. Senate procedures said they had to get the vote through before midnight, and Davis was determined to keep that from happening.
Her determination lasted from around 11 a.m. to almost midnight. Davis’ endurance came from her belief that there was “no doubt” this bill would hurt Texans. The irony is the Senate was meeting in special session because Republicans believed Texans would be hurt if they didn’t pass the bill.
The bill in question was an abortion ban after 20 week of pregnancy that would also require abortion centers to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical clinics. Intentionally or not, Republicans pulled one right from the William Wilberforce playbook—critics say costs to meet the standards would effectively shut down three-fourths of Texas’ abortion centers.
The night became, literally, a life or death battle over Robert’s Rules of Order.
As the midnight deadline grew closer, hope waned that Davis would sit down of her own accord. She is a long-time advocate of “women’s health” who has kicked up a fuss and bucked the system before. Davis was raised by a single mother, and was a single mom herself by the time she was 19. She graduated from Texas Christian University and then received a law degree at Harvard with honors. She successfully stalled a budget bill in 2011. When Davis wanted something, she knew how to fight for it, and last night she showed no signs of giving up. Republicans would have to find a rule to make her stop talking so they could take the vote.
Davis’ stand caught the attention of the nation. Around 400 protesters gathered in the observation area of the Senate Chamber to watch the proceedings, and thousands more watched the live feed online. The hashtag #StandWithWendy topped Twitter trends (The Atlantic Wire reported 4,900 tweets per minute right before midnight). Too bad she wasn’t standing for life instead of death.
Then, with only minutes left, Republicans called foul. Davis had used up her three filibuster strikes—twice drifting off topic and once receiving help from another senator. Democrats appealed, but Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, as the presiding officer of the Senate, ordered her to sit down.
Republicans raced to vote on the bill—but the hundreds of protesters in the room erupted. They clapped, they yelled, they chanted Davis’ name. The protest stalled the vote. The senators could not even hear each other speak.
Sen. Donna Campbell, R- New Braunfels, begged a security guard to get the rowdy crowd that had already been screaming for 10 minutes out of the gallery.
“Time is running out,” Campbell pleaded. “I want them out of here!”
The crowd, which Dewhurst called an “unruly mob,” kept up the ruckus from 11:45 p.m. to well past midnight.
The vote came out 19-10, and at first Republicans insisted it passed in time. But after Dewhurst and others reviewed the computer records in a private meeting, he announced the vote had been taken too late and was dead.
But Republicans may not be ready to give up just yet. In a moment of Davis-like determination, Dewhurst hinted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry might call another special session, adding, “It’s over. It’s been fun. But see you soon.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.