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Clock runs out on Texas abortion bill after marathon filibuster

June 26, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

HOUSTON — A daylong filibuster by Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis to block abortion legislation appears to have succeeded Wednesday — temporarily, at least.

Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, held her own starting at 11:18 a.m. Central Time on Tuesday, surviving several challenges that she had violated Senate filibuster rules, but as midnight neared, marking the end of the overtime special legislative session, the Senate chamber at the state Capitol decended into chaos.

When it appeared the filibuster would be halted and a vote taken on the legislation at about 11:45 p.m., opponents of the legislation who had packed the Senate gallery began to shout and chant, making it difficult for the Republican majority who were trying to force a vote, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Some Democratic senators held up cellphones, their screens displaying the time, shouting, “It’s after midnight!” Lawmakers crowded together at the front of the chamber, then left to confer with staff, but did not officially adjourn.

Initially, the Senate website showed votes had been cast Tuesday, and several Senate staffers said the legislation passed after a 17-12 vote and would go to Gov. Rick Perry, who supports it, for signing. The legislation, SB 5, would ban abortions at 20 weeks and require clinics providing abortions to upgrade or close.

But Dewhurst later announced that the vote had been held too late.

At about 3 a.m., he appeared in the Senate chamber to announce that the special session had expired and the bill could not be “signed in the presence of the Senate … and therefore cannot be enrolled.”

“It’s confirmed, but … see you soon,” Dewhurst said, hinting that Perry may call another special session to give Republicans more time to pass the bill.

Perry’s office did not immediately respond to calls and email about the prospect of another special session. The Texas Legislature meets every other year, including the 31-member Senate.

Dewhurst, who staged an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid last year, losing to Ted Cruz in the Republican primary, later condemned the protesters for staging what they described as "a people's filibuster."

"We had an unruly mob," he told the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, he tweeted: “I pledge to Texas one thing: this fight is far from over.”

But Davis was jubilant. Unlike filibusters in the U.S. Senate, Texas law had required her to speak nonstop about the legislation without access to food, water or a bathroom. No sitting or even leaning allowed. Davis, 50, a lawyer and athletic mother of two, relied on her pink sneakers, back brace and binders full of testimony from opponents of the bill, including many Texas women.

“An incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them,” Davis tweeted Wednesday about the filibuster.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, traveled to Austin to watch the filibuster from the gallery and also celebrated on Twitter early Wednesday.

“Gov. Perry knew all along he couldn't pass this bill by the books. He and his allies resorted to shutting down the debate, blocking testimony from the very women whose lives would be affected, voting in the middle of the night, and employing cheap tricks to try shut down a heroic filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis,” Richards said in a statement released to The Times.

“Tonight, we sent a message to Gov. Perry and every politician who wants to interfere in women’s medical decisions: Enough is enough. With every attack, Gov. Perry and his friends are creating a new generation of activists, and changing this state forever,” she said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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