Politics
6:31 am
Wed June 26, 2013

UPDATE: Marathon Filibuster, Roaring Crowd Stop Abortion Bill

Update, 6:20 a.m.: Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis started it. A raucous, roaring crowd of spectators finished it. And when the dust finally cleared about 3 a.m., Texas Republicans admitted it: One of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the nation didn't get the required Senate vote by a midnight deadline.

Outnumbered Democrats declared victory after the daylong (and nightlong) drama. But their win could be shortlived: Gov. Rick Perry, who called the 30-day special session that ended at midnight, could do the same thing again. No official word came by early Wednesday morning on whether he would.

Update, 12:35 a.m.: After a nearly 11-hour filibuster and a roll-call vote disrupted by screaming, chanting spectators, the fate of a landmark abortion bill was unclear early Wednesday morning. Some Republicans said the measure, one of the toughest anti-abortion measures in the country, had passed moments before the special legislative session's midnight deadline; Democrats disagreed.

It was a muddled end to an incredibly dramatic day. As the Senators began their vote, cheering and jeering erupted from the gallery, continuing for the final 15 minutes before the deadline. The din morphed into chants of "Wendy, Wendy" for Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat who'd waged the marathon filibuster to try to stop the abortion vote.

The Senate's filibuster rules are strict: During her speech, Davis' chair was taken away -- a filibustering senator is not allowed to sit, lean or use the desk or chair.  Water and food are prohibited, as are bathroom breaks.  Colleagues may rise to ask questions if the senator agrees to yield the floor. But the senator retakes the floor after questions are asked and answered.

The Republican lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, ruled that Davis violated the rules a third time just after 10 a.m. -- and that ended the filibuster. But the partisan debate continued right up to the deadline -- and beyond.

Update, 11:41 p.m.: State Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster to stop a strict abortion law from passing in the Texas Senate ended after almost 11 hours late Tuesday night. But as a midnight deadline approached, the legislative wrangling continued.

Sen. Kirk Watson, Davis' fellow Democrat, tried to extend the debate, calling this "the worst night he can remember in the Senate, perhaps the worst in public life."

Our original post: State Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, is in the middle of an unprecedented legislative marathon: She's trying to hold the Senate floor for nearly 13 straight hours. If her filibuster holds up until the legislature's special session ends at midnight, it would kill one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

Davis started her run at 11:20 a.m., laying out her plans to Senate colleagues:

“Members I’m rising on the floor today to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored. These voices have been silenced by a governor who made blind partisanship and personal political ambition the official business of our great state." 

Davis then advised fellow senators she intended to give those people a voice by reading all of their testimonies on the Senate floor.

That's another filibuster rule.  All speech must be on topic.  Lawmakers who filibuster cannot simply read the phone book. 

Senate Bill 5 would ban abortion after 20 weeks.  It's now 26 weeks.   It would require abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, and require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles. 

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America says the bill is a political move to shut down all but a handful of abortion clinics in Texas primarily by requiring them to be expensive surgical centers. 

"This bill is just one in a series of actions that the governor and the legislature have taken to take away women's access to health care in Texas," Richards said.

Richards, daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards, earlier fought a battle with Gov. Rick Perry and lawmakers who cut Planned Parenthood clinics from the state's health program for low-income women. 

Republican proponents say the stricter abortion laws are to protect women and their health.

Karen Garnett, executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of the Dallas Diocese, is hoping the filibuster fails.

"We really, really want to see this bill passed.  We know that we have the votes in the senate to get it passed," Garnett said. "The governor is ready to sign it.   And so, we have one senator who is utilizing the filibuster option. It is our hope that she is not successful in making it to midnight with this filibuster attempt."