Wendy Davis Filibuster: A State Senator Talks Her Way Into American History

There is so much to be cynical about in politics today. Corporate lobbying, rampant corruption, back room deals — it often feels as though there are no politicians left who truly stand for something, who are willing to defend their principles and the rights of their constituents. But yesterday, in a brilliant and brave display of personal conviction, Texas Senator Wendy Davis upended that cynical narrative with grace, intelligence, and strength, and, with the help of Senate Democrats and hundreds of pro-choice supporters, refused to yield women's reproductive rights to a dangerous and draconian bill.

The bill in question was Senate Bill 5, an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would have closed 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in the state and banned abortion after 20 weeks, with no exception for rape or incest. Texas Governor Rick Perry called a special session of the Texas legislature, a move that is meant for emergency legislation, to push through this unpopular legislation, and at midnight Wednesday morning, the special session would run out. After successfully delaying the bill as much as possible, Texas Senate Democrats were called to session at 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, left with their only option: filibuster for 13 hours.

Starting at 11:18 AM Central Time, Senator Davis began her personal filibuster of SB5. According to the Texas Tribune, Texas Senate rules state that in order for an individual to filibuster, one “cannot eat, drink or use the restroom during the speech,” and an individual is prohibited from “leaning on a desk or chair under any circumstances.” Essentially, Senator Davis would have to stand virtually still, with no food, water, or restroom privileges, and speak about the bill for 13 hours in order to kill it. Donning pink tennis shoes and a clear voice, Senator Davis set out to speak this bill to death.

Senator Davis read testimony from the 248 Texas citizens who were denied the ability to testify in front of the Texas House of Representatives last Thursday because their testimony was deemed too “repetitive.” She discussed what this bill meant for the lives of Texas women, how it would shatter reproductive health care in the state, and deflected condescending questions from anti-choice legislators. Senate Republicans called points of order (formal complaints about either the content of the filibuster or the actions of the filibusterer), continually trying to undermine Senator Davis’s efforts and ram through SB5. Allowed three formal warnings before to she would be forced to end her filibuster, she garnered two formal warnings throughout the day for giving testimony that wasn’t “germane” (testimony about funding Planned Parenthood, mind you) and for having help in putting on a back brace.

 

According to The Huffington Post, “Around 10 p.m. local time, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) ruled that Davis' discussion of mandatory ultrasound testing was not germane to the anti-abortion bill,” a transparently insidious ruling with the sole purpose of ending Senator Davis’s filibuster. This served as her third and final warning, ending her filibuster with two hours left on the special session clock. Though Senator Davis’s filibuster was over, Senate Democrats continued to delay a vote on the bill with parliamentary inquiries and their own points of order. It was organized chaos, to say the least. 

The final 10 minutes were fraught with confusion, and after Democratic Senator Leticia Van De Putte was ignored by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst in her appeals, she roused the hundreds of protesters in the chamber and rotunda. Watch here:


After seven minutes of screaming and chanting from the pro-choice protesters in the Senate chambers, midnight came without a vote. Though the Texas Republicans initially claimed to have passed the bill, ultimately, Lt Gov. David Dewhurst, the same man who ruled against Senator Davis three times during her filibuster, conceded that the bill did not pass according to legislative rules. SB5 was dead.

During the chaos of the last two hours, Senator Davis did not sit down. Not once. She remained on her feet, working with Senate Democrats, committed to do everything possible to kill this dangerous bill. After 11 hours of testimony, some of it so heart wrenching that she cried while reading, Senator Davis would not leave. While verbally silenced, her physical presence stood as a reminder that she would not cede this fight. She put her body and voice on the line for the sake of protecting Texas women’s constitutional right to an abortion. She stood in the face of anti-choice extremism, petty attacks from her senatorial colleagues, and sheer physical and mental exhaustion, to defend women’s reproductive freedom. If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will.

No matter where you stand on SB5 or abortion rights, it is impossible to deny that what Senator Wendy Davis did on Tuesday was spectacular, to say the least. In a move befitting a Frank Capra movie, this woman stood and spoke for half the day, and even after her filibuster was forcibly ended, she did not yield. Only 13 filibusters in Texas Senate history have lasted longer than 13 hours, and none of them were by a woman. Though she did not quite make it to 13 hours, Senator Davis soared into the history books last night, a place she undoubtedly deserves to be.

A political star was born in Texas yesterday, and my belief in the power of social justice was restored. Thank you, Senator Wendy Davis. The women of Texas and around the world salute you.