As word spread, supporters thronged the capitol’s entrances, lined the walkways encircling the rotunda and turned the Senate chamber’s gallery into a cheering section.
What made the scene so riveting was the woman who was required to speak without a break, without straying from the topic and without even leaning on her antique walnut desk. As time ran out, Republicans deemed her to have violated those rules — including once for being helped with a back brace — and made her give up the floor.
Such was the bedlam, however, that when the 19-10 vote finally happened, it came several minutes too late for a midnight deadline.
That kind of tenacity has also been the story of her life. Davis, 50, became a mother while still in her teens, lived for a time in a trailer park and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.
As she spoke, Twitter registered 400,000 tweets with the hashtag #standwithwendy. One of them came from the official account of President Obama, and said: “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”
But it was a rare — and likely temporary — victory for abortion rights advocates.
Davis succeeded in running out the clock on the session. So late Wednesday afternoon, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced that he would call the legislature back for another special session, to begin July 1. The abortion bill appears certain to be considered again, and if the Republican leadership acts quickly enough, it will not be subject to a filibuster.
“Obviously, if he brings that back again and the management in the capitol on both sides manages time better than they did when we started this past special session, that bill will pass,” Davis conceded in an interview.
The legislation would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is about four weeks before a fetus is viable; mandate abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers; and require doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Advocates of the legislation say it is a means of assuring abortion is safe; opponents say it would force nearly every abortion clinic in the state to close.
In the 2012 presidential and Senate elections, Republicans felt a backlash for waging what Democrats branded a “war on women,” particularly on questions involving contraception and abortion.
But there is a political tide pulling in the other direction. During the more than two years since the 2010 elections strengthened Republican power in state capitals across the country, many have moved to put new limitations on abortion.