On a day when a Texas state legislator talked for hours, the loudest voices of all came from Texas citizens.
Democrats successfully scuttled draconian abortion restrictions, which would have closed all but five clinics providing abortion services in the state. The bill, SB5, would have also restricted abortion to the first eighteen weeks of pregnancy, and would place TRAP restrictions on abortion facilities, designed to make it all but impossible for them to function.
The bill was a priority of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who wanted the bill passed during the special session of the state legislature, which expired at midnight on Wednesday. That, however, gave Democrats and pro-choice activists something to work with — if they could slow-walk the progress of the legislation, they could run out the clock on the legislation, forcing the GOP to either call a new special session, or to try to pass it during the regular legislative session.
That’s exactly what they did. Hundreds of citizens descended on a committee hearing for the bill, offering dramatic, heartbreaking testimony. Texas GOPers did the only thing they could — they turned their backs on citizens, and forced the bill onto the House floor.
The bill passed the House, and went on to the Texas Senate, but Democrats succeeded in delaying a vote until the last day of session — allowing them the opportunity to filibuster the bill. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, took to the floor in a marathon session. Unlike the U.S. Senate, where opponents of a bill can “filibuster” with a nod and a wink, Davis had to do the real thing — speaking on topic for 13 hours without sitting or leaning, without aid from others, without using the restroom, without even taking a drink of water.
That’s exactly what Davis did, to the point where Republicans were forced to bend the rules to try to stop her.
Chaos and Lawlessness
Republicans could object to Davis’ speech on the grounds that she was drifting off topic — she was required to keep her remarks to the business at hand. But Davis did a good job of that, forcing the GOP to object that Roe v. Wade was not tied to an abortion debate, and neither was the abortifacient RU-486. That, combined with an objection to Davis receiving some help with her back brace, was used as justification to end debate by Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was presiding over the Senate.
However, Dewhurst made a series of errors in his ruling — for one thing, the decision to end debate was supposed to be by vote of the Senate; for another, rules seemed to indicate that there had to be three objections to the content of debate.
Dewhurst ruled Davis out of order at about 10 P.M. central time, but Democrats successfully stalled, bringing up points of order and parliamentary points, running out the clock effectively. Soon, Dewhurst had lost control of the body, allowing Democrats to waste even more time.
The GOP finally regained control around 11:30 P.M., and began attempting to maneuver to bring the bill to a vote. At this point, the GOP was simply trying to roll over Democrats, and Democrats were not having it. State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleague?”
The gallery erupted into cheers, a demonstration that began with about seven minutes to midnight. As the clock rolled on, the cheers intensified, with the citizens trying desperately to carry the filibuster over the finish line.
Republican leaders looked completely lost; they appeared to plan to wait out the cheers and declare that time had been suspended — something some parliamentary bodies can do — but it was not clear that they had the authority to make that decision. At some point, leadership apparently attempted to call a voice vote on the measure, but in the chaos, not everyone heard it. Even some Republicans admitted they weren’t sure if they voted. Nevertheless, the GOP leadership initially recorded a vote indicating that the bill had passed, with votes breaking along party lines.
Unfortunately, the vote was time-stamped for 12:02 AM — two minutes after the end of session.
Republicans briefly attempted to push their way through. At one point, the time stamp was mysteriously moved back to 11:59 PM, but by that point, it was simply too late — Democrats were already calling for lawsuits over the bill, and frankly, it was just too obvious that the bill had passed after midnight.
At 3 A.M., Dewhurst conceded that the bill had not passed, blaming an “unruly mob” for the failure. Of course, that was true; Republicans had, by trying to ignore and evade the rules, been behaving precisely like an unruly mob.
Davis, meanwhile, was triumphal in an address to supporters.
“Today was democracy in action,” she said. “You all are the voices we were speaking for from the floor.”
Dewhurst hinted that another special session could be called to take up abortion; that move has been floated by Republicans who want to are intent on throwing up anti-choice roadblocks. Still, after the chaos of Tuesday night’s session, the GOP may want to tread carefully. A majority of Texans already oppose the GOP’s abortion restrictions, and that’s before they initially tried to cheat to ram it through. Yes, if Texas Republicans keep pushing, they can probably find a way to enact this legislation, no matter what the people think. But politicians who stop caring what people think often find their careers cut short, and right quick.
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