Thousands around the world were glued to a live stream on Tuesday night to watch Texan Democrat Senator Wendy Davis attempt to block a controversial Republican abortion bill by speaking for nearly 11 hours.
The debate ended in chaos and confusion, with Republicans originally claiming they had passed the bill before the midnight deadline, before conceding that they had been too late.
The bill would have restricted access to abortion in the state by banning termination after 20 weeks, limiting drugs to induce the procedure, and requiring abortion to be performed in ambulatory surgical centres.
Advocates claimed this would have resulted in the closure of 37 of Texas’s 42 abortion clinics, a massive reduction.
In order to prevent the bill being approved by Texas governor Rick Perry, Davis decided to filibuster it. A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure that extends a debate, and can ultimately result in its delay or prevention.
Davis needed to talk without pause, without sitting down, eating, drinking, leaning on her desk or going to the toilet in order to delay the bill for at least two years. Her speech began at 11.18am local time and finished at 10.03pm, lasting for 10 hours and 45 minutes in total.
The leadership may not want to listen to TX women, but they will have to listen to me. I intend to filibuster this bill.June 25, 2013
Davis began her speech by saying she wanted “to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans” and explained how the legislation would “do real damage to our state and to the families whose rights are violated”. Davis has successfully used the filibuster before and yesterday she filled the hours by sharing stories from women and doctors about reproductive rights. Davis herself became a single mother at the age of 19, but went on to graduate from Harvard.
The news of Davis’s valiant attempt to prevent the bill from passing soon spread on social media. Over 150,000 people watched the live stream from the Senate, the hashtag #standwithWendy began trending on twitter, and President Barack Obama lent his support:
However, the final two hours of the filibuster descended into confusion and chaos. Republican opponents brought procedural motions in order to prevent Davis from continuing her speech, whilst Democrats retaliated with attempts to fill up the minutes until midnight. Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who left her father’s funeral in order to support Davis’ cause, said: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand, or her voice, to be recognised over the male colleagues in the room?”
The crowds, who had been pouring into the public gallery, erupted into cheers, which resulted in a suspension of the vote until order was restored. With less than 15 minutes to go until midnight, those in the gallery increased the noise level until state troopers moved in, arresting at least one person.
Amid the confusion it was unclear whether or not the bill had been passed. Journalists reported that the roll call for the vote had not finished until after midnight and Democrats said they were prepared to mount a challenge if the bill was passed. The Senate eventually acknowledged that they had missed the deadline, although screen shots from the Texas State Legislature site showed that someone had initially attempted to change the date of the vote to read Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
Thanks to the powerful voices of thousands of Texans, #SB5 is dead. An incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them.— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) June 26, 2013
Credit Photo CC BY Ann_Harkness/Flickr http://eurone.ws/16yYuqs