How Wendy Davis & Screaming Masses Saved Abortion Rights In Texas

Wendy Davis, a Democratic State Senator from Texas, went from being an unknown to one of the country’s most compelling political characters in one, epic 13 hour stretch.

wendy davis, wendy davis filibuster, filibuster, texas, wendy davis back braceWendy Davis, a Democratic State Senator from Texas, went from being an unknown to one of the country’s most compelling political characters in one, epic 13 hour stretch. First, some context:

Texas called a special legislative session. These sessions are designed to pass emergency legislation (i.e., a huge storm is barreling through the state, and the legislature wants to release aide money immediately) and the threshold for passing bills is lowered. The focus of this emergency session: a bill to restrict abortion at 20 weeks and close 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas, because they are not surgical centers. Why was this an emergency? Because Republicans couldn’t get it past Wendy Davis and her colleagues in normal legislative sessions.

The bill, SB 5, was passed in the Senate, added to and passed in the House, then sent back to the Senate for approval of the new language added in the House. Passage was all but assured. The only thing that could stop the bill is if no vote happened before midnight on Tuesday, at which point the special legislative session would end. Enter Wendy Davis.



Wendy Davis was faced with a true physical challenge to stop this bill: talk for 13 hours without eating, drinking, bathroom breaks, sitting, leaning or going off topic. It was this last point where Wendy Davis apparently failed to meet her requirements. After the third time that she, according to the presiding officer in the Texas Senate, went off topic, her speaking time was declared over after 10 hours.

But Wendy Davis continued to stand. She and her Democratic colleagues disputed the ending of her filibuster. A debate over parliamentary procedures ensued, and the clock kept ticking.

Pushing through Democrats’ objections, the Senate began to call the roll on a vote. That’s when another Democratic Senator, Leticia Van De Putte made herself heard. She stated that she had raised a motion to adjourn before roll was called. It was 20 minutes until midnight. There was a brief back-and-forth with the presiding officer, which probably would have been contentious if people were less tired. Eight minutes later, as roll was starting to be called again, Senator Van De Putte spoke up again, with this line that will live on in history:

“At what point does a female senator get recognized over her male colleagues in the room?”

Hundreds of orange-clad supporters had come to the Senate to watch and support Wendy Davis’ filibuster, and at that moment they erupted into cheers.

And they kept cheering.

And they seemed to realize pretty quickly that if they cheered for 12 more minutes, the clock would strike midnight and this special legislative session would turn back into a pumpkin.

It was a surreal scene: continuous screams and cheers, most Texas senators just stood there, unsure what to do, there was a small conference at the bench, there were futile calls for order, and all the while Wendy Davis stood.

Wendy Davis was still standing, and her supporters still screaming, when the clock passed midnight and the session ended. Republicans took roll on the vote, but it was too late. They had taken roll at 12:01, and the vote was invalidated.

Thus ended the wildest night in politics in recent memory, and so began the national fame and recognition as a pro-choice hero for Wendy Davis.

View Comments

Recommended For You