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Texas Antiabortion Bill Fails After Epic Filibuster, Protests

Texas Antiabortion Bill Fails After Epic Filibuster, Protests

June 26, 2013 — A Democratic-led filibuster and protests from abortion-rights supporters in the Texas Capitol stopped the state Senate from passing an omnibus antiabortion-rights measure (SB 5) before its special session ended Tuesday evening, the Texas Tribune reports (Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 6/26).

The bill included four abortion regulations that failed to progress in either chamber of the Legislature during the regular session: a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a woman's life is in danger, a requirement that abortions be performed at an ambulatory surgical center, a mandate that physicians administer medication abortion drugs in person and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/24).

Although five of the 42 facilities that offer abortions in Texas meet the standards to become ambulatory surgical centers, the others would have to relocate to new buildings or undergo costly renovations to comply. The closure of the clinics would leave women in rural areas and small towns with few options, placing a huge burden on the remaining five facilities, all of which are located in major cities.

Possible Second Special Session

According to the New York Times, Gov. Rick Perry (R) -- who added SB5 to the agenda for the special session -- could call a second special session to consider the bill. If that happens, the measure would probably pass because of the large number of Republicans who support it and tighter time limits on Democratic efforts to delay a vote, according to political analysts (Fernandez/Eckholm, New York Times, 6/26).

Session Ends With Confusion Over Vote

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) stood for nearly 13 hours in an attempt to filibuster the bill until midnight, when the terms of the state Constitution required that the special session come to an end (Texas Tribune, 6/26).

Texas Senate rules state that individuals staging filibusters must remain on topic and stand without leaning on anything for support. The filibuster ends if a lawmaker breaks the rules three times (Hu, "The Two-Way," NPR, 6/26). Davis was called out of order for mentioning a topic deemed nongermane to the discussion, then again after another senator tried to help her put on a back brace.

After she received a third strike -- again for germaneness -- Democrats managed to stall debate for another two hours, fueling an uproar from protesters in the gallery that further stalled proceedings.

At about midnight, lawmakers voted 19-10 to approve the bill, and at first it was unclear if the vote would count. Finally, around 3:00 a.m., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) officially declared that the bill could not be enrolled (Texas Tribune, 6/26).

The reasons for Dewhurst's decision are disputed. Opponents of the bill claim the official time stamp showed the bill passed after midnight (New York Times, 6/26). Following the vote, senators convened for a private meeting, after which Dewhurst -- maintaining that the vote preceded the deadline -- said the bill could not be sent to the governor because "with all the ruckus and noise going on, [he] couldn't sign the bill" (AP/Politico, 6/26).

Comments

Dewhurst said he was "very frustrated" with the results and blamed the bill's failure on "[a]n unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics."

Davis said the bill's defeat "shows the determination and spirit of Texas women and people who care about Texas women" (Texas Tribune, 6/26).

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said, "We know that [the bill] would shut down dozens of clinics in the state of Texas, a state of 26 million people, and there will be women who cannot reach a health care provider to get reproductive health care for hundreds of miles" (New York Times, 6/26).