In just 11 hours Tuesday, Texas lawmaker Wendy Davis went from relative obscurity to national fame as the symbol of resistance to harsh antiabortion laws. Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, filibustered a proposal that would place new restrictions on abortion clinics and ban the practice after 20 weeks.
Her efforts were one of the more exciting instances of recent legislative activity. Under the rules of the chamber, Davis wasn’t allowed to sit, drink, use the bathroom or lean against furniture as she spoke. What’s more, she was required to speak on things germane to the topic at hand — the Texas Senate does not allow lawmakers to simply read from, say, a phone book.
Ultimately, state Republicans were able to end Davis’ filibuster with a series of procedural challenges two hours before the midnight deadline to pass the bill. But a series of parliamentary questions from Democrats — and a rush of activity from protesters — managed to delay the legislative session long enough for the bill to die.
The odds of it staying defeated, however, are low.
Gov. Rick Perry has already called a special legislative session to pass the abortion bill. Speaking at the National Right to Life Convention on Thursday, Perry noted that Davis is the daughter of a single woman and was herself a teenage mother and said that “it is just unfortunate that Davis hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential” — an argument that boils down to: Wendy Davis should oppose legal abortion because she wasn’t aborted herself.
It’s a despicable comment that ought to inspire women’s rights groups and Texas Democrats to oppose the effort to pass the bill.
Davis has expressed interest in statewide office, and the timing of her turn in the spotlight is fortuitous; her seat is in danger of being gerrymandered away, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision this week gutting the preclearance formula of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
If these new abortion restrictions pass — a likely outcome given Republican dominance in the state legislature — Texas will join the growing list of states whose onerous regulations and requirements have all but banned abortion. Indeed, if there is a trend in reproductive rights, it’s toward tighter laws and diminished access to abortion and other services.
Davis’ filibuster, then, was only the beginning of what promises to be a very long battle to challenge and roll back these laws.
Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog. Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line