Texas Abortion Bill Fails Following Stunning, Late-Night Legislative Chaos
A bill in the Texas legislature that would impose some of the strongest restrictions on abortion in the country failed to pass before a midnight deadline on Tuesday, following extraordinary events in the State Senate that lasted all day.
The bill would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It would also effectively shut down 37 of the Texas's 42 clinics that provide the service by establishing new regulations on doctors and buildings that would have been nearly impossible to meet.
Passions on both sides were riding high as the legislative session approached its close, scheduled Tuesday at midnight. Any bills that are not officially passed by then die and must wait until the next session to be brought back up.
State Senator Wendy Davis (D.-Fort Worth) started off the remarkable proceedings of the day at 11:18 a.m., when she began a filibuster against the bill, hoping to speak on the Senate floor straight through until midnight, thus preventing a final vote on the bill. She made it almost 11 hours, not quite long enough, after Republican opponents said she had committed certain violations that forced the end to the filibuster.
Davis's supporters erupted in protest when she was forced to stop. They packed the balcony, shouting and booing for 15 minutes. When a vote was finally taken, and the bill passed 19-10, Democrats claimed it had occurred too late—just a few minutes past midnight. The Republican Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst, addressed the press after 2 a.m. and announced that the bill had in fact failed, due to the raucous events earlier in the night.
“Members, the constitutional time for the first called session for the 83rd Legislature has expired,” Dewhurst said. “Senate Bill 5 cannot be signed in the presence of the Senate at this time and therefore cannot be enrolled."
Davis spoke soon after, saying, “Tonight, people who have been in this capitol for far longer than I have said they’ve never experienced anything like what we saw at the Capitol today and this evening. ... We did our best as a democratic caucus to make sure that happened, and I think the results speak for themselves.”
The bill will surely come up again, either in a special session called by Texas Governor Rick Perry, or at the next scheduled meeting of the legislature. But for now, both sides can regroup and prepare, though we may not see such fireworks again.