UPDATED: Wendy Davis's Abortion Filibuster Brings Laughter from Republicans, and History to Capitol

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

UPDATED: After 12.5 hours of filibuster, a trio of controversial points of order, and one of the most sustained shows of political passion the state has seen in years, the Texas Senate failed to pass Senate Bill 5 Tuesday night. After departing shortly after midnight without a clear ruling, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst returned to the floor at 3 a.m. to announce the final decision on the bill, which would have shuttered nearly 90 percent of the abortion clinics in the state. "Regrettably, the constitutional time expired," Dewhurst told reporters.

Dewhurst took three hours to strike his gavel for a handful of reasons. After the points of order against Sen. Wendy Davis, whose filibuster was viewed by nearly 200,000 people via a live stream online, were sustained -- including one from Sen. Tommy Williams complaining about the implementation of Davis's back brace -- Sens. Kirk Watson, Judith Zaffirini, and Leticia Van De Putte sustained discussion until approximately 11:50 p.m. A frustrated Van De Putte then addressed Dewhurst: "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?"

The comment roused the hundreds thronging the rafters, who began a series of cheers and applause that, for the next 15 minutes, drowned any attempt to allow a vote to come forward. Chants of "WEN-DY, WEN-DY!" rang through the halls, leading Dewhurst, at one point, to promise that the vote would be suspended if order could be returned. But it would be to no avail -- the crowd, draped in the orange swaths of support, did not let up until minutes after the midnight deadline.

There are early reports that certain within the Texas Legislature attempted to change the time-stamp recording the procedures, showing that no procedures had actually taken place Wednesday. (A side-by-side comparison can be viewed here.) However, until further investigation comes -- and with nearly 200,000 people viewing the proceedings, and all they entailed -- Texas is left with a dead bill, a successful filibuster, and one of the most impressive shows of political fortitude of this generation. The support, as Davis said afterward, "shows the determination and spirit of Texas women and people who care about Texas women."

ORIGINAL POST: At 11:18 a.m. on Tuesday, Wendy Davis, a state senator out of Fort Worth, stood up on the floor of the capitol. Holding a microphone, wearing a long white sweater and a pair of bright pink Mizuno sneakers, she looked across her dais, and she began to speak. And she intended to continue for 13 hours more, so that 88 percent of Texas's abortion clinics aren't shut down in 2013.

Davis's stand, which can be viewed live here, is one of the more improbable and impressive moves not simply within recent Texas political history, but within 21st century American politics. The modern filibuster, as we're sure you're aware, has turned into one of the cheapest political tricks this side of proposed Voter ID regulations. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell passes notification of filibuster, leading any proposed legislation, sans a super-majority of 60 votes of support within the United States Senate, to crumble. The filibuster has turned into the tactic of the weak, the meek, and those who would seek to block legislation through minority sleight-of-hand.

Of course, this was not how our constitutional authors, whether federally or state-wide, intended the filibuster to exist. It was not meant to be but a slip of paper and a slow nod of the head. It wasn't meant to allow a super-minority to turn its chamber into the least productive member of society. It wasn't meant to be a bullshit run-around that can stymie even the most obvious legislation.

Which is why Davis's stand is so impressive, and so pertinent. Davis is channeling a finer version of the filibuster. Rather than tossing her Mizunos and sliding a print of notification to her colleagues, Davis is standing there, stark, running with as many statistics and anecdotes and trends and tales as she can. She's offering herself, directly, viscerally, so that women in Texas will be allowed to obtain abortions after 20 weeks, as they've been constitutionally allowed. Davis is putting on the greatest show of a potential gubernatorial candidate, in this or any state, that we've seen since Rand Paul's anti-drone diatribe earlier this year. (Of course, Paul's sights were set on the White House, but the parallels remain.)

This is how a filibuster was meant to be. We're supposed to see Davis's tears while she reads the tales of women, of constituents, who'd undergone abortions. We're supposed to witness the juxtaposition of Davis and those who support Senate Bill 5 -- those like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and State Senator Jane Nelson -- who feel their time's better spent laughing than listening. We're supposed to follow the trajectory of Davis's words, the ones she's publicizing for all of us, and the reactions of the hundreds packing the rafters, a sea of rippling, mesmerized burnt orange. While we at Hair Balls like to think we can run our motors with the best of them, it's tough to imagine that we could have the strength and temerity to actually go on for 13 consecutive hours, without break, without falter. Up there, with room for neither restroom reprieve nor leg up from colleagues. Alone. Thirteen hours, on her own, so these three million women in the Valley won't have to drive six-odd hours to the nearest abortion clinic, just to sign the paperwork to begin. So that faulty science can't ruin a right 40 years in the making.

Davis's filibuster will not remain as well-known as, say, Strom Thurmond's 1957 diatribe against the Civil Rights Act, or Wisc. Sen. Robert La Follette's 1917 attempts to prevent arming merchant ships against the Germans. It won't be as widely viewed as Paul's attempts to figure how he can prevent the Pentagon's drones from turning inward. It may not even be effective -- she still has to make it to midnight before she can relax.

But for the 13 million women of Texas, and for their male partners, Davis is standing for the opportunity to still obtain the abortions to which they are legally allowed. She's standing, and we're watching, and we're waiting. She's putting on a show worth following. She's putting out a filibuster as it's meant to be, and for all the right reasons.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.