As of about 6:15 p.m. CST, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis was nearly seven hours into a one-woman filibuster that’s expected to last until midnight as she holds up legislation that would decimate access to safe, legal abortion in Texas. Wearing orange and pink sneakers, she began speaking at 11:18 a.m. CST Tuesday. She cannot sit, lean, eat, drink, or take a bathroom break—to do so would mean yielding the floor and giving her Republican colleagues the opportunity to pass SB 5, the omnibus anti-abortion access bill that would reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas to just five.
As the state senate came to order Tuesday morning, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the president of the senate, recognized Davis at her desk. Did she intend to speak today?
“Yes, Mr. President,” she said. “I intend to speak for an extended period of time on the bill.” She continued, as nearly 500 people, the vast majority wearing orange t-shirts, vests, and even pants, looked on from the gallery above: “Members, I’m rising on the floor today to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored.”
Orange has become the de facto color of reproductive freedom in Texas, as hundreds of citizens have descended upon the state capitol for the third time in six days to speak out against SB 5. Many have arrived in carpools from hours away, in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley. Many have arrived with their children in tow. They’ve spent the afternoon queued at the senate chamber doors and around the capitol rotunda, hoping someone gives up a seat inside the senate chamber so that they can see history in action.
Texas state Senator Wendy Davis (Patrick Michels / TexasObserver.com)
Davis is running out the clock on the Texas legislature’s special session, initially called so that legislators could address redistricting issues after a federal court ruled gerrymandered districts unconstitutional. But Republican Gov. Rick Perry added abortion-related legislation to the special session calendar, knowing that Republican legislators could rush through bills that had no chance in the regular session thanks to the suspension of the “two-thirds rule.” That rule requires a bill to garner the approval of two-thirds of the Texas senate in order to be brought to the floor; without that rule in place, with Democrats at a numerical disadvantage, Republicans are in a prime position to bully their favored bills onto the floor.
Davis opened with a few remarks of her own before moving on to read letters from the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all of which oppose SB 5 on the grounds that it would put Texans’ health in danger, forcing them to seek illegal abortions and putting unnecessary and onerous burdens on physicians and health-care providers. She followed with unheard testimony from last Thursday’s “people’s filibuster” at the State Affairs Committee, which saw state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) cut off hundreds of Texans hoping to testify in favor of reproductive rights.
Then Davis took questions from state Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), a general practitioner and abortion opponent, who pressed her on issues regarding ambulatory surgical centers, as well as Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), an anti-choice Democrat, who said his Christian faith drove him to support the bill.
Republicans became restless just after 5:00 p.m. CST as GOP senators raised inquiries about the relevance of Davis’ ongoing remarks. State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) raised an inquiry with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst when Davis began talking about contraception and other services provided by Planned Parenthood that would help Texans avoid unplanned pregnancies.
Nichols said he didn’t believe “alternatives to abortion are related” to SB 5. And that kind of reasoning, really, is how Republicans got us here in the first place.