Wendy Davis becomes pro-choice hero with filibuster of abortion bill in Texas Senate

After a filibuster that lasted more than 10 hours on Tuesday, Democratic lawmaker Wendy Davis and a crowd of supporters managed to delay a bill restricting abortions in the Texas Senate. Overnight, Davis became one of her party’s most popular politicians:

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. . .

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.

Karen Tumulty and Morgan Smith

Making his argument for the bill, Perry pointed to Davis’s own biography:

“Who are we to say that children born in the worst of circumstances can’t lead successful lives?” Perry asked in a speech at a convention held by the National Right to Life organization. “Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She’s the daughter of as single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, and that every life matters.”

Davis started working when she was 14 to help her single mother and siblings; by 19 she was divorced with a daughter of her own. Living in a trailer park and “destined to live the life that I watched my mother live,” as she put it in a 2011 video, Davis was encouraged by a co-worker to go to community college. She worked two jobs and took paralegal classes, transferred to Texas Christian University, and after being the first in her family to get a bachelor’s degree went on to graduate from Harvard Law School with honors.

Rachel Weiner

As the night continued, supporters took to the online social network Twitter, where Davis’s filibuster was mentioned more than 500,000 times:

To outside observers, this type of virality probably looks organic, even serendipitous — and to some extent, that’s true. But it’s also a reflection of the growing social media savviness of politicians and interest groups, who positioned Davis’ marathon speech to go viral.

Texas advocacy groups didn’t make that mistake. In the days before the filibuster, the pro-choice organization NARAL Texas used Facebook to organize rides for supporters who wanted to witness Davis’ speech. Planned Parenthood Texas and a progressive women’s group called Annie’s List live-tweeted from the gallery. A pro-choice blogger compiled a lengthy list of local and national media outlets, politicians and celebrities on Twitter, encouraging people to “make sure your local news station … knows about our action today.” The hashtag #standwithwendy, which racked up 547,000 tweets during the course of Davis’ speech, was actually coined — and promoted — by the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“If you are NOT in Austin and cannot get here, tweet and retweet your support for us,” one local activist wrote on her blog. “The anti-brigade is out in force … Don’t engage them, just tweet your support for what we are doing. Tweet at positive public figures, get us trending and raise the signal for women’s rights. TWEETSTORM them out of business, y’all!

That “tweetstorming” tactic was essentially what pushed Davis, by degrees, into the national spotlight. After five hours, the #standwithwendy hashtag was picked up by the national ACLU and Planned Parenthood, which have a combined 259,000 followers. Less than an hour later, at 5:53 CT, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted her own message of support — followed one hour later by a tweet from President Obama that was reshared nearly 17,000 times.

Caitlin Dewey

For Melinda Henneberger, Davis’s filibuster was misguided:

There’s a lot to admire about the celebrated filibusterer Wendy Davis, and her overnight victory over blatant cheaters. Tough, articulate, and with the kind of perseverance we can hardly value highly enough, the Texas state senator showed up and stayed up, remaining on her feet for 13 hours. . .

In a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, Americans said they favor a bill like the Texas measure, 48 percent to 44 percent. More than half of politically unaffiliated Americans — 53 percent — backed such a bill. And 50 percent of women said they were in favor compared to 46 percent of men.

So are half of women really self-loathing victims of brainwashing by the patriarchy who, according to what I read and hear on cable news shows, also hate sex and our bodies and oppose all contraception? Sorry, but no.

The Texas law is not unlike legislation on the books all over Western Europe, where late-term abortions are rightly considered barbaric — except, of course, in cases of rape, incest, or health risk to the mother.

Melinda Henneberger

For past coverage of Davis’s filibuster, continue reading here.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis talks about her filibuster to prevent a bill on abortion.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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