The battle from Texas Democrats and a coalition of pro-choice protesters to stop the passage of an omnibus bill that would have shut down all but five abortion clinics in Texas was dramatic from the beginning. Republicans couldn’t get the political momentum to pass the bill during the regular session, so they brought the bill back during a special session called by Gov. Rick Perry ostensibly to handle emergency issues like redistricting and transportation. And, now, abortion. After chaos that at first led to the declaration that the bill had been passed, the bill was defeated in the early hours of Wednesday morning when Republicans acknowledged that they actually did not make the midnight deadline for passage. Well, that’s the technical reason it didn’t pass. The actual reason is Sen. Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth, who filibustered for more than 10 hours on Tuesday, and a crowd of protesters who fought to kill this bill at every turn.
Davis knew that if she could talk from around 11 a.m. until after midnight, the special session would run out and the bill would die. She went for most of that time, until Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst cut her off, declaring her discussion of mandatory ultrasounds (which was passed in a previous bill) off-limits. (In Texas, you can’t stray from the topic of the bill being filibustered. How mandatory ultrasounds for abortions is off-topic on an abortion bill is beyond me.) With Davis sidelined, Democrats then used procedural motions to successfully stall the vote until 11:45 p.m., at which point the protesters who had filled the Capitol building erupted into shouts and cheers in an effort to stall the voting:
The tactic worked. While there was much dispute for the next few hours over whether the vote was completed in time, it was eventually determined that it wasn’t sealed until 12:03 a.m., after the special session had ended. Dewhurst was furious, declaring defeat in the early hours of the morning and then saying, “It’s been fun, but see you soon.” The comment likely refers to Perry’s right to call another special session solely to pass this bill, which many expect he will do.
Dewhurst wasn’t done, of course, telling reporters, “An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies.”
The protesters have been part of this battle from the beginning, however, making their anger and frustration all the more understandable. When the bill was in the House committee, more than 700 protesters showed up to conduct a “people’s filibuster,” signing up to testify against the bill. The filibuster lasted 15 hours, until Rep. Byron Cook shut it down, with a couple hundred people to go. The testimony had grown “repetitive,” he complained.
Protesters, who had spilled into the Capitol rotunda and onto the Capitol grounds Tuesday night, reportedly broke into the song “The Eyes of Texas” upon learning that their tactics had won the day. The song, the alma mater of the University of Texas, was the perfect choice: “The eyes of Texas are upon you/ All the livelong day/ The eyes of Texas are upon you/ You cannot get away.” Holding the vote during a special session was an attempt by Perry and Texas Republicans to slip this bill in with very little media attention. The strategy appears to have backfired.