Starting at 10:18 AM central time Tuesday, a rather extraordinary thing happened. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis began to filibuster the new Texas abortion law that would ban any abortion after 20 weeks and lead to the closure of 37 of the state’s 42 clinics that provide abortions. The law is considered by many to be one of the most extreme and restrictive bills ever to make its way to a United States state house.
The bill was met with the sort of protests that Texas has rarely ever seen. Over 600 activists flooded the state capitol on Sunday after another 800 women’s right’s advocates registered to testify against the legislation last Thursday delaying the vote for over 15 hours. But vote they did, and the Republican dominated majority passed the law on Monday.
The only hope State Democrats had to stop the legislation was to have one Senator filibuster the bill until 12 AM CDT, thereby ending the special session without the law escaping the state house and onto Governor Rick Perry’s desk. To do so, she would not be allowed to eat or drink anything. She could not use the bathroom or even lean on the podium. She would have to essentially speak non-stop and she had to remain on topic. No reading from War and Peace, the phone book, or even My Pet Goat.
Rand Paul drew a lot of praise (for his stamina at least) during his filibuster of the appointment of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA over the potential use of drones inside our borders. Comparably, Paul’s 13 hour filibuster was far less grueling. He could take in water, eat a snack, and have a Senator briefly take his place.
Wendy Davis had to stand alone.
I started watching the live You Tube feed a little before 9 PM EST and I was simply stunned my Senator Davis’ composure and intestinal fortitude. A Glimpse of her pink sneakers was the only concession I saw that she made to her endurance test.
It took about 7 hours before the dirty tricks started. At 5:45 PM, Davis received a warning for not staying on topic. A second warning was given at 7:19 PM because Senator Davis received assistance from another Senator while putting on a back brace while the filibuster was paused over a point of order. The Senate voted along party lines, 17-11, that the assistance received was a violation. Yeah, you read that right. That meant if one more warning were to be issued, the entire filibuster could be ended by Senate vote.
At 9:50 PM, Republican Senator, Donna Campbell, raised an objection that Davis’ discussion of a separate bill relating to another bill that requires a pre-abortion sonogram that passed in 2011. Davis was clearly linking the two bills and their collective impact. Only under the most restrictive of views could anyone consider that discussion as being “off topic.” The filibuster paused while the members of the senate debated the motion. It took far longer than anyone would likely deem reasonable, and as they say in boxing “When it takes this long to reach a decision, somebody’s getting screwed.”
Despite extensive stalling efforts by the Democrats and with the crowd chanting “Let Her Speak!” and “Shame!”–raising all kinds of ruckus on the senate floor–the Republican majority upheld Campbell’s motion by a 19-10 vote and ended the filibuster with literally one minute to spare.
Update: Wendy Davis tweet: “Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has agreed that #SB5 [the bill] is dead. The official vote was recorded at 12:03 a.m. Know why? Because of you. #StandWithWendy,” she wrote. “We have started something here that they cannot stop. Thank y’all.”
Wendy and the women of Texas won.
Wendy Davis is 50 years old and represents the 10th district and her hometown of Fort Worth in the Texas Senate. She is best known in her state for efforts in supporting education, homeland security, and veteran’s issues. Before yesterday, I hazard to guess that very few people outside the state of Texas knew her name. By 1AM CDT, over 180,000 people were watching her courageous efforts on You Tube. This morning I suspect that highlights of her effort will be in heavy rotation on all the major news channels. By the afternoon I suspect that she will be the person of the moment on the cable channels. By the evening, the prime time players on the 24 hour news channels will be frothing at the mouth to talk about her. In the coming days, weeks, and months, I suspect that every network, producer, and talking head will be stepping over each other to get her booked and on camera.
Wendy Davis’ filibuster is a most historic victory, but I’m willing to bet another very important thing happened between 10AM Tuesday and 1AM Wednesday. I suspect a leader in Texas just went national. We won’t forget her because we won’t have to . No, I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of Senator Davis, right soon, right often, ad infinitum.
I don’t like to throw around the word “hero.” It is too often used and has reached a point where it sounds trite to my ears. But tonight, I saw one in front of my very own eyes. I sure as hell did.
A most honorable mention goes to Senator Leticia Van De Putte who stood up near the close of the proceedings and asked,