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A Look Back At The Wendy Davis Abortion Bill Filibuster One Year Later

Ryan Poppe
TPR News
A pro-life supporter reads the Bible at the state capitol as lawmakers engaged in heated debate over the new abortion clinic restrictions in July 2013.

One year ago, the Democrats in the Texas Senate were gearing up for what some have called the filibuster heard around the world.  Since then, a lot has happened over the past year as a result of state Sen. Wendy Davis filibuster of the state's latest abortion bill.

The state’s newest abortion law, which became House Bill 2 in the first special session, was introduced during the Legislature’s regular session but blocked by Democrats using the Senate’s two-thirds majority rule. 

But it was quickly added to the summer’s first special session, and it didn’t take long before becoming a source of contention and controversy that led to heated testimony and record-breaking rallies in the thousands at the state capitol.

Within that same time frame, information had begun circulating about the effects of two provisions in the law: one that requires all doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, and another requiring clinics performing abortions to meet ambulatory standards. 

“This bill of course will shut down dozens of women’s health care providers in the state of Texas, not only impacting women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion, but to access any kind of healthcare that those clinics provide,” said Planned Parenthood Executive Director Cecile Richards.

Planned Parenthood was one of the groups organizing the rallies and major opposition events at the state capitol.

But eventually the bill came up for final vote in the Texas Senate and the Democrats needed another plan to stop the legislation. To the floor stepped Davis, who spoke for 13 hours in a filibuster that was noticed across the globe.

“I will try to explain the history of the failed legislation before us, the impact of that legislation, and most importantly what history tells us about the policies and the motivations behind them," said Davis as she began the June 25th filibuster.

Near the end of her time, the Senate chamber echoed with cheers from the people in the gallery and the argument between lawmakers. And then, state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte asked to be recognized to speak on the issue.

"Mr. president, parliamentary inquire: At what point must a female senator raise her hands and her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

Following the the filibuster that pushed a vote past the midnight deadline, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to reconcile what had just happened in the chamber:

“I didn’t lose control over what we were doing," Dewhurst said. "We had an unruly mob of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in here and we couldn’t communicate with our members.”

HB2 passed a month later in July, during the second special session. On the night HB2 passed, Davis stood outside the capitol and addressed those gathered:

“This capitol belongs to the people and hopefully one day we’re going to return to the people of the great state of Texas," Davis said.

While the bill did get passed, political experts agreed that an unintended consequence of the bill’s passage was the raising both Davis and Van De Putte's political profiles.

But beyond the passage of legislation, litigation being filed against HB2 and the rise of two Democratic women’s political careers, what else came from the filibuster?

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said the filibuster raised the level of activism in Texas by ten fold.  But provisions in the law also resulted in the closure of clinics serving entire sections of the state.

“So there’s a real concern about the health implications that we’re going to see as a result of this, and your asking what’s going to happen next session," Howard said. "I’m concerned that because those folks were pushing this legislation to try and get it through, they are going to try to push for even more restrictions.” 

Howard said that has Democrats in the Legislature already planning for the 2015 session.