Wendy Davis and the Texas-sized filibuster: What exactly happened last night?

Wendy Davis almost single-handedly killed a bill that would've made it much harder to get an abortion in Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
Wendy Davis almost single-handedly killed a bill that would've made it much harder to get an abortion in Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

In the wee hours of last night, an anti-abortion bill in the Texas legislature was defeated, almost single-handedly, by a state senator named Wendy Davis. You might be wondering:

Where did this bill come from? Gov. Rick Perry (R) had asked for abortion to be added to a special session of the Texas legislature (which only meets for 140 days every two years). Last week, Republican lawmakers introduced companion bills in the House and Senate, passing them over the objections of crowds of protesters.

What would it have done? Senate Bill 5 would not have banned abortions completely. According to the Texas legislature's bill analysis, it would have prohibited physicians from administering them in the third trimester. It also imposed new rules for legal abortions, like requiring that only physicians may prescribe "abortion-inducing" drugs like RU-486, and that abortion facilities report the age of the fetuses they terminated. Effectively, though, it could've made getting the procedure much more difficult: Reproductive rights advocates claimed that the part requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility would have forced the closure of 37 of the state's 42 clinics.

How did it die? Because debate had taken so long on the bill in the House, the Senate was on a tight time frame to accept the lower chamber's changes before the special session ended at midnight Tuesday. That opened it up to the possibility of a filibuster, which Davis announced she would undertake Monday. Davis started just before noon Tuesday, and Republicans tried to disqualify the tactic by alleging that she'd violated filibuster rules three times. Protesters making noise in the Senate gallery helped delay the vote as well, which the lieutenant governor ruled at 3:01 a.m. had not met the midnight cutoff.

What's the bigger picture? Over the past few years, we've seen a wave of anti-abortion bills proposed in states around the country. Some have been thrown out by courts, but more and more, pro-choice activists are heading them off before they become law — and Davis's stand could serve as an example in the future.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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