A Texas-Sized Filibuster on Abortion

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
Read More.
a | A

The filibuster -- the big, sweat-sopping, water-gulping, show-stopping high drama in which a lone legislator straddles the world and yells "Stop!" -- is back. Just a couple months after Senator Rand Paul took to the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours to decry the (not immediately apparent) danger of drone strikes on U.S. soil, Texas state senator Wendy Davis commandeered the capitol in Austin today to try to thwart the latest sneak attack on abortion rights.

Davis, a Democrat, is hoping to block legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and require that they be performed in surgical centers, thus outlawing most of the state's abortion providers. If Davis can keep talking until midnight -- roughly equivalent to the 13 hours that Paul managed in Washington -- she will outlast the legislative session. To pass the bill, Governor Rick Perry would have to call a special session.

As in the era of civil rights, when aggrieved white power commanded the national stage in the form of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond's syrupy soliloquies, social issues are providing the passion this time around, as well. The Texas legislation is just the latest example of the capacity of social policy to drive our most dramatic political action.

By contrast, there have been no tense filibusters over poverty or unemployment or the meandering U.S. economy. Perhaps it's true that the business of America is business. But it seems the business of filibusters is culture.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net