On Tuesday night, Texas state senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) led a 13-hour filibuster of Senate Bill 5, a bill that would have led to the closure of all but five of the state’s existing 42 abortion clinics. In the six days since, Davis has become a national celebrity, but the struggle to kill SB5 is far from over. Republican Governor Rick Perry announced a second special session scheduled to begin today, where the abortion bill is likely to be brought up once again. I caught up with Sen. Davis over the weekend to see what she’s planning this time around.
Let’s talk a bit about SB5, the specific TX abortion bill in question. How do the provisions in the bill fit into a larger scheme of similar laws being introduced in state legislatures nationwide? Ohio, for instance, passed a budget on Thursday that similarly restricts women’s access to abortion.
I don’t know what exactly are the details of what’s passed in every state, but I can tell you that what’s been happening in the last few years is that we’ve been seeing policies that can’t quite make it onto a national coverage level that have been popping up from state to state to state. ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council] is primarily responsible for helping to craft that policy and disseminate it, and they’ve been unfortunately successful even at the national level. If we’re not careful, we’ll look up one day and see that every state has passed some form of it.
What makes the fight against such restrictive measures distinct in Texas?
Texas is an enormous state, and when you start talking about putting limitations on what the clinical setting of a facility must be, and you decrease dramatically the number of facilities that qualify, it becomes very precarious for women to access that help. Texas has 42 operating clinics, only 5 of which would remain open under SB5. They would be in major urban centers far far removed from where many women live — women would truly lose their access to this care. Not to exaggerate it in any way for the sake of political drama, but SB5 absolutely presents a terrain where women will be confronted with making some difficult choices, as we saw in this country decades ago. And sometimes in those situations they turn to alternatives that are very dangerous for them.
Along those lines, what did Tuesday night teach you about your state?
I was so inspired. You know, it’s been a long, dry road for progressive concepts, but not only that — it’s been a long dry road for the individual voice to be heard in the midst of a government that’s representative of power and influence. What I saw on Tuesday was that individual voices were heard, and I was inspired and it gave me hope. I think it gave hope to people all over the country — to believe in their ability to make an impact.
How does what happened during the filibuster change your relationships with your Republican colleagues in the state senate?
Well, sadly we had just come out of a session that was a very good session–we had worked on such a wonderful bipartisan model that was really a model for our national scene to replicate. And then we came into the special session, and instantly thrown on the fire are these very partisan, very divided issues. We’ve been here before, and we’ll likely be here again, and we typically try to get along and respect each other. But what happened on Tuesday was such an unusual and absolute breaking of every rule to try and ram this bill through that I think it’s created some pretty deep wounds that I think are going to be harder to heal than some of those wounds in the past.
What do you anticipate happening with SB5 during the second special session Governor Perry has called for July 1, specifically with SB5?
I think they’ll do everything they can not to give us a chance to filibuster again. What will be interesting to see is whether moderate Republicans will think any differently based on what they’ve been seeing and hearing in the days that followed. I’m an internal optimist and really do believe in power of democracy and remain hopeful that we’ll be able to do something with the bill. To be honest, a lot of it will depend on the involvement of the public, and I’d be surprised to see that wane after Tuesday.
Could you — and would you — filibuster the bill again?
If I had the opportunity to do that, I absolutely will. A filibuster is something you use when the clock is ticking away. If an opportunity presents itself and the bill comes up in waning hours of the session, I would do that. And I know I have Democratic colleagues who would also be willing to filibuster.
Practically speaking, do you think SB5 is likely to pass the second time around? Is there any forseeable recourse for Texas women if it does?
Immediately there will be a legal action filed to try and enjoin its enforcement. I hope that if it does pass, people won’t give up hope — yes, we have a system where sometimes rights are run over in the legislative process, but there’s a constitutional legal process there to react to that.