Led by Davis, Democrats Defeat Abortion Legislation

Protesters outside the Texas Senate chamber cheer as Sen. Wendy Davis leaves on June 26, 2013.
Protesters outside the Texas Senate chamber cheer as Sen. Wendy Davis leaves on June 26, 2013.

The nation watched on Tuesday — and into Wednesday — as Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and hundreds of impassioned reproductive rights advocates stalled proceedings and ultimately defeated controversial abortion legislation in a storm of screams and shouts as the clock struck midnight.

“I am overwhelmed, honestly,” Davis said after standing for nearly 13 hours to filibuster Senate Bill 5, the abortion legislation. The outpouring of support from protesters at the Capitol and across the nation, she said, “shows the determination and spirit of Texas women and people who care about Texas women."

Some have called the abortion restrictions proposed in SB 5 the toughest in the nation. The bill would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required physicians to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of an abortion facility, required abortions — even drug-induced ones — to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers and required doctors to administer drugs that induce abortion in person.

Republican senators made a last-ditch effort to approve SB 5, voting 19-10, but by then the clock had ticked past midnight. Under the terms of the state Constitution, the special session had ended, and the bill could not be signed, enrolled or sent to the governor.

That fact was not immediately clear, and confusion abounded on the Senate floor. Republicans claimed the bill had passed while Democrats said it had not.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he was “very frustrated” with the night’s results, after officially declaring near 3 a.m. that the bill could not be enrolled.

“An unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics” derailed legislation that was intended to protect women and babies, he told reporters.

"I didn't lose control of what we were doing," he said. "We had an unruly mob."

Conservative lawmakers tried every tool in the Senate rulebook to derail the filibuster. A "three strikes, you’re out" precedent in the Senate grants lawmakers two warnings about staying germane to the bill topic. On the third strike, a simple majority of the Senate can vote to end debate and the senator must yield the floor.

Ultimately, Davis received the three strikes: two were on the germaneness of the discussion and one was related to Davis receiving assistance from another senator to put on a back brace. Democrats attempted to appeal the third strike — one on germaneness — and used parliamentary inquiries to stall debate for another two hours, which ultimately opened the door for the uproar in the gallery that prevented the Senate from voting on SB 5 until after midnight.

"The people can't come and create so much of a ruckus that we can't do our job," said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. He defended the last-minute effort to vote on SB 5 and said that the bill should have been considered approved because senators began voting before midnight. "There will be people who see things as they see them," he said, adding, "I think its fair to say this is not the way the Senate should do its business."

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Democrats “didn’t even know we were voting” because they were too busy celebrating that the clock had passed midnight. "How can we call a vote if we can't hear?" he said.

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