Texas Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, accomplished what few ever could yesterday by speaking for close to 11 hours without stopping, leaning, or taking a bathroom break. In her filibuster attempt to prevent a vote on severely restrictive abortion legislation, she not only had to speak continuously, she had to speak on topic, unlike filibusters in the nation’s capital, where lawmakers can stand up and say anything at all for hours on end. While she didn’t quite make it to the midnight deadline, the crowd of supporters in the room helped prevent the vote from being accurately recorded on time, which essentially killed the bill. Unfortunately, despite her heroic efforts, this bill will likely reappear and pass if Governor Rick Perry calls a second emergency session to vote on it. Here is where democracy gets questionable.
Senate Bill 5 is one of the most restrictive abortion bills ever proposed. It seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy regardless of circumstance. It requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as surgical centers, and requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting rights at nearby hospitals (NY Times). If passed, the legislation would essentially outlaw abortion in the state of Texas: “’We know that it would shut down dozens of clinics in the state of Texas, a state of 26 million people, and there will be women who cannot reach a health care provider to get reproductive health care for hundreds of miles,’ said Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and a daughter of Ann W. Richards, the former Texas governor. ‘This is the thing that’s frightening. Women will do whatever they have to do to take care of themselves'” (NY Times). Also frightening is the fact that the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jodie Laubenberg, R-Spring, does not seem to fully understand what she is proposing. At one point she indicated that rape kits, which are used to gather evidence following a sexual assault, were used to perform abortions (CBS News).
Texas Republicans insist that they are attempting to protect women’s health by passing this legislation. Yet, according to Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates women’s health clinics in Texas, this legislation, added to current laws which include a 24-hour waiting period, will only jeopardize women’s health, forcing them to cross the border to Mexico in order to obtain abortion inducing drugs, or resort to harmful methods of self-inducing abortion: “We’ve already seen women taking matters into their own hands. I’ve seen women who asked their partners to punch them in the stomach repeatedly” (NY Times).
Yet even after all of the debate and drama that unfolded during this special session, state Republicans can still force their agenda, as Governor Perry will likely call a second special session in order to pass the legislation. At that point, Democrats will have few options available to them to prevent the bill from being voted into law. And once SB5 is signed into law, women in Texas will be left with even fewer options.