DALLAS — Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis won admiration and praise from millions of women across the country this week for taking a successful stand against limitations on women’s health choices in the state Senate. June 25, the Fort Worth native, and single mother, stood for over eleven hours in a back brace in a show of commitment to fight SB5. The bill would have effectively eliminated rural abortion clinics in Texas according to its detractors.
SB5 would have legislated stricter restrictions and regulations in Texas. SB5 included banning abortion past 20 weeks of gestation, and requiring doctors performing the procedure to have rights to practice in hospitals within 30 miles. The bill also required an upgrade of all abortion facilities, transforming them into ambulatory surgical centers.
Davis did not take on an easy task. Senate rules provide that during filibuster no bathroom breaks are permitted. One also cannot lean on any support, and one must stay “on topic”. Undaunted, Davis rose to the challenge wearing pink tennis shoes to show her support for women who desire more healthy choices in matters of reproduction. Largely due to her success in carrying the filibuster up to the final minutes of the Senate session, Davis now finds herself embroiled in the debate in Texas concerning abortion clinics.
The bill has been described as the death knell for abortions in rural Texas. Abortion providers claim they cannot bear the over $2 million cost of ambulatory surgical center status required, and that such status is not needed. Supporters of the Senate bill declare it to be in the interest of women’s health. Republican State Sen. Bob Duell, the sponsor of the bill, opined women needed protection from substandard facilities.
Outside the capitol a crowd sang “The Eyes of Texas” while Davis spoke. They cried “Shame! Shame!” when Davis’s filibuster was halted by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who ruled the discussion of mandatory ultrasound testing was not within the topics to be discussed.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte attempted to raise a point of order 15 minutes before midnight, but the lieutenant governor instead heard a Republican male colleague.
When finally recognized, Van de Putted asked, “Mr. President, parliamentary inquiry: At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Protesters in the gallery clapped and cheered, acting as an “angry mob” according to supporters of the bill. Senators tried to hold a vote in the 15 minutes before the session ended. According to the state Constitution, the bill had to be approved before midnight.
The vote finally was taken. Republicans claimed the bill had passed. Democrats declared that the vote was taken at 12 minutes after midnight, making it invalid. The vote was recorded at 12:03 a.m. Dewhurst later admitted the bill was actually dead.
“Today was democracy in action.” Davis said, “You all are the voices we were speaking for from the floor.”
Dewhurst told reporters, “An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies.”
He may have suggested Gov. Rick Perry would call a special session when he told the Senate, “It’s over. It’s been fun. But see you soon.”
July 1, Perry did indeed announce such a special session to reconsider the bill.
In a statement he said, “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do.”
Pro-choice activists and celebrities already are planning to be in Austin, Texas when the issue is revisited.