Texas Abortion Battle Renewed After Filibuster

Posted at 10:21 PM, Jun 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-26 22:21:47-04

(CNN) — A day after a filibuster and a raucous crowd in the state Capitol foiled passage of a bill that would have imposed strict new regulations on abortion in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry vowed Wednesday to try again.

Perry said the Legislature would convene July 1 in special session to take up the abortion bill, which was declared dead before dawn Wednesday. The bill failed after a night of drama in Austin during which a lone lawmaker talked for more than 10 hours in an attempt to run out the clock on a special session.

Chants of “shame! shame! shame!” from spectators who had filled the building drowned out the efforts of Republican lawmakers as they tried to pass it minutes before midnight.

“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,” Perry said in a statement calling lawmakers back into another special session. Texans “value life and want to protect women and the unborn,” he said.

Perry’s announcement came a day before he was to address the National Right to Life convention in Dallas on Thursday.

And it came on a day when abortion rights advocates found a new hero in state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Though Republicans control the state Senate, Davis tried to block the abortion bill by attempting a 13-hour filibuster Tuesday.

“I underestimated how difficult it would be — both physically and mentally,” Davis told CNN’s “AC360” on Wednesday. “About two hours in, I realized I was in for a long day. My back started hurting pretty early on and began to really hurt as the hours ticked by.”

But, she said, the energy from the packed gallery “kept me going throughout the day.”

Davis fell short of her goal by less than three hours when the chair ruled she had gone off topic. The gallery erupted in boos. Her fellow Democrats stalled for time with procedural tactics.

And as the clock wound down, opponents of the bill drowned out proceedings on the floor, preventing lawmakers from completing a vote in time to get it passed.

At 3 a.m., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped to the Senate floor to declare the bill dead and the special session over.

Texas parents agree not to pressure teen to have abortion

“We empowered the voice of people in Texas and people who wanted to stand against this intrusion, this big government intrusion, into their personal lives,” Davis said Wednesday night.

Even if the bill winds up passing in the next special session, the reaction will not be split along partisan lines, she predicted. “It’s a reaction coming from Republicans, independents and Democrats alike, which is saying: Governor Perry, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, stay out of my private decision-making.”

The bill would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and tightened standards on abortion clinics and the doctors who work at them. Critics said the measure would have shut most of the abortion clinics in Texas.

“He (Perry) lost this fight in regular session, and even after they broke the rules he and his allies lost again in front of the entire country last night,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement.

“They tried every trick in the book, blocking testimony from the very women whose lives would be affected, voting in the middle of the night, shutting down the debate — they couldn’t get this done because Texans would not let them.”

Wearing pink sneakers, Davis, 50, took to the floor of the chamber late Tuesday morning to criticize the bill. Rules called for her to stand, unaided, until midnight, for the filibuster to succeed.

She was not allowed to sit down, lean or take a bathroom break, and she was allowed three warnings before the Senate was to be allowed to vote on whether to stop the filibuster.

The senator spent much of the time reading testimony and messages from women decrying the bill and recounting the struggles they, their friends or relatives faced before birth control and abortion were legalized.

“Women realize that these bills will not protect their health,” she said. “They will only reduce their access to abortion providers and limit their ability to make their own family-planning decisions.”

Early in the diatribe, her comments were ruled off topic and she was given her first warning.

During the evening, a fellow senator helped Davis put on a back brace, which was ruled to have violated filibuster rules, and she got her second warning.

Finally, at about 10 p.m., Davis talked about the abortion pill, RU486, and the chairman ruled again that her comments were off topic.

But a member of the Senate then moved that the ruling be appealed, and its status was in doubt.

The final hours of the session were marked by confusing parliamentary maneuvers until Sen. Leticia Van de Putte stepped to the microphone, ending the debate.

“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” the Democratic senator asked after she had been ignored.

At 15 minutes before midnight, the gallery erupted in applause and chants of “Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!”

As the session ended, Davis waded into the crowd of supporters and praised them as “the people who truly made this happen.”

Texas Right to Life blamed “the angry mob of protesters in the Senate gallery” for the failure of the bill to pass.

“Ultimately, we should be encouraged that we had the votes and that so many came to support the bill,” the anti-abortion group said on its website. “We will continue to work to pass Pro-Life legislation that protects women and saves lives in Texas.”

The last stand

Davis’ stand captivated abortion rights advocates from coast to coast,prompting the hashtag #standwithwendy on Twitter.

The White House took notice.

“Something special is happening in Austin tonight,” said a post on President Barack Obama’s official Twitter account. The account is run by Organizing for Action, a nonprofit group established to support the president’s legislative agenda.

A post by Aimee Parker of Los Angeles said: “I’m in absolute awe of you, @WendyDavisTexas. Thank you for your passion, perseverance and unparalleled badassery.”

English comedian Ricky Gervais weighed in as well.

“Whatever the outcome, @WendyDavisTexas efforts entered her into the pantheon of American heroes tonight.”

Heady times for Davis, who was first elected to the Texas Senate in 2008, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent to do so.

Last year, she staged a filibuster to force a special session in an attempt to stop $5 billion in cuts to Texas public schools, according to her website.

Davis, who became a single mother at age 19, went on to graduate with honors from Harvard Law School, it says.

Her filibuster was no record. In 1977, Sen. Bill Meier staged a 43-hour marathon.

The special session ends with irony, Twitter user Cody Becknersaid, echoing the governor’s own words.

“‘In Texas, we value all life,’ Gov. Perry TX said on the eve of the state’s 500th execution.”