Wendy Davis' stunning filibuster of a Texas abortion bill
The Texas state senator talked for 11 hours to prevent a restrictive abortion bill from passing... and succeeded, for now
On Tuesday, the Texas state Senate was scheduled to pass major bills on funding transportation, permitting the death penalty for 17-year-olds, and putting sweeping restrictions on abortion in the state. Then, at 11:18 a.m., Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, took to the Senate floor and started what she hoped would be a 13-hour filibuster of the abortion bill.
If Davis managed to keep the floor until midnight, the special legislative session would end without the bill passing. She didn't make it — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) ruled her out of order at about 10 p.m., two hours shy of the deadline. But the bill didn't make it, either. Here's what happened:
11:18 a.m.: "Partisanship and ambition are not unusual in a state capitol, but here in Texas, right now," Davis says, launching her filibuster, "it has risen to a level of profound irresponsibility and the raw abuse of power." Under Texas Senate rules, Davis can't eat, drink, use the restroom, sit, or even lean against her desk during the filibuster.
The bill up for debate, Senate Bill 5 (SB5), would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, require that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and mandate that all abortion clinics meet the standards of hospitals or similar-grade surgical centers — conditions that critics say would close all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics. (For more information, watch the video above.)
5:30 p.m.: State Sen. Robert Nichols objects to Davis discussing Planned Parenthood's budget, arguing it is not germane to SB5. Dewhurst concurs, and issues the first of three warnings to Davis.
After the third warning — which can be for straying off topic or breaking another of the filibuster rules — a simple majority of the Senate can vote to end the filibuster. There are 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate.
6:30 p.m.: Davis gets her second warning, after Sen. Tommy Williams (R) objects to her getting help from Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) in attempting to put on a back brace. "The tradition of this filibuster in the Senate has always been that you had to do it on your own," Williams says.
7:27 p.m.: Dewhurst puts the question up for a vote, and after some discussion, the Senate upholds the point of order, 17 to 11.
8:40 p.m.: President Obama tweets his support:
10:07 p.m.: Dewhurst hands Davis her third strike, upholding an objection from Sen. Donna Campbell (R) that Davis' discussion of a 2011 fetal sonogram law is not germane to SB5. "After going over what people heard as far as discussion," Dewhurst says, "Sen. Campbell, your point of order is well taken and is sustained." Democrats object, saying that Dewhurst had promised — and tradition dictates — that the Senate vote on whether to end the filibuster. The Senate gallery is not happy, either, and a chant of "Let her speak!" breaks out:
10:10 p.m.: Democrats start using parliamentary procedures to try and run down the final two hours. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D), who arrived late, asks the presiding senator to explain why Davis is being forced to end her filibuster: "Since I was at my father's funeral, I ask that you please let me know, what were the three motions or the three points of order so that I may understand?"
Meanwhile, this is what it it looks like in the state capitol outside the Senate chamber:
11:45 p.m.: Presiding Sen. Robert Duncan (R) either ignores or doesn't hear Van de Putte's motion to adjourn, instead taking up a motion from a Republican male colleague to move to a vote on SB5. Van de Putte pointedly asks the following question, and the shouting and applause doesn't stop until after midnight:
This is what the last 10 minutes of the special session are like, encapsulated in 26 seconds, according to The Texas Tribune:
Midnight: With the loud noise from the gallery drowning out attempts to hold a vote, the Senate finally passes SB5. Democrats and reporters say the roll call didn't start until 12:02 a.m., however, which would appear to make the vote null and void, since the session ended at midnight. Dewhurst and his fellow Republicans say the vote started at 11:59 p.m. For hours, nobody is sure if SB5 passed.
1:15 a.m.: Reporters and Democrats pass around printouts of Texas Legislature Online, the state legislature's official record, showing that the original date of the final vote, June 26, had been changed to June 25:
3:00 a.m.: Dewhurst concedes that SB5 didn't pass:
Dewhurst says he is "very frustrated" with what happened in the Senate, blaming "an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics" for derailing the bill. "I didn't lose control of what we were doing," he adds. "We had an unruly mob." Gov. Rick Perry (R) has the right to call a second special session to reconsider the abortion bill plus the other measures left on the table Tuesday.