June 27, 2013

In just eleven hours — the length of her filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate — Wendy Davis went from obscurity as a Texas lawmaker to national fame as the symbol of resistance to harsh anti-abortion laws. A Democrat from Fort Worth, Davis killed a proposal that would place new restrictions on abortion clinics and ban the practice after 20 weeks.

Her 11-hour filibuster — which lasted through Tuesday night — was one of the more exciting instances of legislative activity in recent memory. Under the rules of the chamber, Davis wasn’t allowed to sit, drink, use the bathroom, or lean against any furniture as she spoke. What’s more, she was required to speak on topics germane to the topic at hand — the Texas Senate does not allow lawmakers to simply read from a phonebook (though, if the bill in question dealt with phonebooks, it’s hard to see who would argue).

Ultimately, Texas Republicans were able to end her 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 — as well as a rush of activity from protesters — managed to delay the legislative session long enough for the bill to die.

The odds of it staying dead, however, are low. Governor Rick Perry has already called a new special legislative session to pass the abortion bill, and women’s rights groups — as well as Texas Democrats — are gearing up to oppose this effort as well. Davis herself has expressed interest in running statewide — and possibly challenging Republicans for control of the governorship. The timing is fortuitous; her seat is in danger of being gerrymandered away, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the pre-clearance formula of the Voting Rights Act.

If these new restrictions are passed — and given Republican dominance in the state legislature, it’s likely — Texas will join a growing list of states that have all but banned abortion with onerous regulations and requirements. Indeed, if there’s 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.

UPDATE: Speaking at the National Right to Life Convention this morning, Gov. Perry said “it is just unfortunate that [Davis] hasn’t learned from her own example” of being a teenage mother and the daughter of a single mother. I wrote about this despicable comment over at The American Prospect.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.