A Texas senator wearing pink sneakers started talking nonstop -- with no bathroom breaks, sitting, leaning on her desk or water allowed -- to prevent a vote on legislation that might close most of the state’s abortion clinics.
Wendy Davis, a 50-year-old Democrat, said she’s planning to filibuster in the Senate chamber in Austin until midnight, the end of a specially called legislative session. Hundreds of abortion rights advocates watched from the Senate gallery, many wearing orange t-shirts reading, “We Stand for Texas Women.”
Davis is trying to block Republican-sponsored legislation in the second-largest state that would ban abortions at 20 weeks and require they be performed in ambulatory surgical centers by doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 kilometers). Most state clinics would have to alter their facilities to meet the requirements, and abortion-rights advocates say many couldn’t afford it.
The measure would “force the closure of multiple facilities across the state of Texas without a single care or concern for the women whose lives will be impacted by that decision,” Davis said. “Partisanship and ambition is not unusual in this state Capitol, but here in Texas, right now, it has risen to a level of profound irresponsibility.”
The legislation would continue a push in Republican-led states to limit when and how women can obtain abortions. Some measures, including bans after the 20th week of pregnancy passed in at least 10 states since 2010, are on hold pending legal challenges.
The restrictions in Texas would affect more women than any other state’s because of the distance women may have to travel to the remaining clinics, Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, said in an e-mail. The organization researches and compiles data on reproductive health.
If Davis continues talking until midnight, nearly 13 hours, the legislative session will end without approval of the abortion measure, which was backed by the House of Representatives and is supported by Governor Rick Perry, a Republican. Perry could call another legislative session to consider the legislation. Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, declined to say whether he would.
“It’s hard to see how anyone could stand on the side of the horrific late-term abortion industry,” Havens said.
The Senate should start a special session tomorrow, said Senator Dan Patrick, a Republican, in an interview. “Senator Davis can talk for a long time, but she can’t talk for two weeks,” Patrick said.
Of 44 clinics in Texas, six meet surgical-center guidelines, according to a statement of intent for the bill by Senator Glenn Hegar, its sponsor. Texas has more stringent requirements for the centers than for abortion clinics. They cover heating and ventilation systems, employee hiring, room size and fire alarms.
Today, Davis, wearing a white jacket over a flower-print dress, slowly walked in a circle around her desk as she spoke in the Senate chamber. There were occasional claps and shouts from the gallery.
Davis read aloud statements from abortion rights advocates, crying as she read one from a woman explaining her decision to have the procedure. An ultrasound showed the fetus had severe abnormalities, resulting in an agonizing decision about whether to end the pregnancy, she said.
“If this 20-week ban had been in place four years ago, then I wouldn’t have been able to make this choice,” Davis said, reading from the statement.
Republicans hold 19 of the 31 Senate seats and a simple majority is required to pass the bill. The Senate previously approved the restrictions without the 20-week abortion ban. Lawmakers are considering the issue again because the House approved the limit.
Filibusters are used by lawmakers in statehouses around the country and in the U.S. Congress. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, in March spoke for 13 hours against President Barack Obama’s military drone policy.
A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, an Austin lobbyist engaged in at least seven filibusters while a state senator from 1960 to 1981, said the marathons aren’t easy.
“You have to stay on subject, but if you have a good sense of humor, you make it entertaining for the gallery and then you feed off that energy,” Schwartz said.
Davis’s filibuster prompted Ellen McLean, 69, a cattle rancher from Jarrell, Texas, to drive about 50 miles to the capitol. She wore a bright orange dress, following suggestions from Planned Parenthood of Texas, which has encouraged supporters to wear the color.
“Senator Davis has the guts to hang in there and I’m really proud of her,” McLean said. “We thought these issues about women’s right to choose were taken care of decades ago. But we were wrong.”
Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life, an anti-abortion group in Arlington, described Davis as a “formidable opponent.”
“But we’ve got too many people who’ve worked too hard on this for it to fail,” Wright said.