State Sen. Wendy Davis finally put her head down at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
About 17 hours earlier, with pink and orange tennis shoes tightly tied to her feet, she began standing near her desk on the Senate floor where she would remain from 11:17 a.m. until after midnight. The Fort Worth Democrat filibustered sweeping legislation that would have tightened standards on state abortion clinics. The passage of Senate Bill 5 would’ve meant 37-of-42 state facilities would be unable to provide abortions.
It also bans the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires that all procedures take place in a surgical center. Doctors who perform abortions would also need admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Senate Bill 5 did not pass before the special session reached its end at 12 a.m. It was a chaotic finish, and while Republicans successfully halted the filibuster in time, the vote wasn’t taken before deadline. It passed –– but it passed at 12:03 a.m. As Sen. Royce West, D – Dallas, yelled from the floor, it was too late to take the vote.
In an unprecedented show of support, thousands packed the rotunda at the State Capitol, chanting “Let her speak” and “Wendy” so loud that their voices drowned out the proceedings on the floor. Speaking to reporters later, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst credited the “unruly mob” with the Senate’s inability to record a vote before midnight.
“I think we’ve heard loud and clear from Texans across the state, women who would be impacted and the men who love them, who stood up and made sure that this bill was defeated,” Davis said Wednesday afternoon in an interview with News 8. “We may not have that same opportunity again that we had yesterday with the filibuster.”
The fight isn’t over and Davis knew it. She said she expected the governor to call the Senate back. And hours after the interview, Gov. Rick Perry did just that, announcing that the 30 day session will begin Monday at 2 p.m. On the docket: "Legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities." The Senate will also take up the transportation and juvenile justice bills that also died because of the filibuster.
Below is Perry's statement announcing the second session:
“Too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas. Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state. 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."
Political experts fear the victory could be short lived. Senate Bill 5 didn’t hit the floor until the final day of the session. It’s likely that, should a second be called, that Democrats won’t again have that luxury. Republicans may push to introduce it early in the session, all but killing the chance of a filibuster.
However, should the Democrats attempt it again, they must overcome the Senate’s tight rules on the practice: whomever has the floor during the filibuster must only speak of the topic as it relates to the bill at hand. There are no restroom breaks and aid from other Senators is not allowed. Break these rules three times and surrender the floor.
Davis saw this firsthand.
She got a first warning after speaking about Planned Parenthood’s budget, a topic not germane to the bill. The second came when Sen. Rodney Ellis, D – Houston, helped Davis put on a back brace in the eighth hour of the filibuster, an act that violated a rule against assisting. The third, and perhaps most controversial, was issued by Dewhurst at about 10 p.m. when Davis spoke of the impact of the 2011abortion sonogram law, which required women receiving abortions to be shown a sonogram.
Democrats then spent the remainder of the session –– about two hours –– asking parliamentary inquiries to delay the vote. Afterward, Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat and former mayor of Austin, called it “probably what is the worst night since I’ve been in the Senate and since I’ve been in public life.”
“There has been an effort at every moment to try and stop this filibuster,” he told News 8’s Jason Whitely early Wednesday morning.
Davis echoed his sentiment in the afternoon interview.
“Yesterday was a travesty in the Texas Senate in terms of the application of our rules,” Davis said. “Last night, understand that the rules were completely disregarded and, in spite of that, we were able to continue through parliamentary inquiry, to drag the clock out and to demand that our voices be heard and not be drowned out.”
The Fort Worth Democrat, who literally catapulted onto the national stage overnight, said support from all who visited the Capitol helped her overcome the physical impact of being on her feet for so many hours.
“I just kind of lost my wind for a little bit but then I regained it and the people being there really gave me the energy to stand there for that period of time,” she said. “Who knew that there were so many people in Texas that were counting on us to stand for their values?”
Dewhurst, in a statement posted initially to his Facebook page, pledged that “this fight is far from over.” Below is his full statement:
"I am furious about the outcome of the final day of this Special Session, when an unruly, screaming mob using 'Occupy Wall Street' tactics derailed legislation intended to protect the health of Texas women and their babies. An unconscionable series of delaying actions by the minority party and their allies placed SB 5 in direct jeopardy of death-by-filibuster upon its arrival in the Senate. Pushing every parliamentary procedure to its limit, we passed SB 5 19-10, but the deafening roar from the gallery drowned out any possibility of adjourning with a signed bill. I pledge to Texas one thing: this fight is far from over."