Texas Abortion Bill Fails to Pass Due to Filibuster and ‘Unruly Mob’

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Texas State Capitol - chaos reigned during the recent abortion bill vote. Photo by Kumar Appaiah

Texas State Capitol – chaos reigned during the recent abortion bill vote. Photo by Kumar Appaiah

There is some controversy as to when the vote was taken in the Texas Senate on the abortion bill. Some say it was taken before midnight on June 25, 2013 while others insist it was taken at 12:02 a.m. on June 26, two minutes after the current session of the Senate ended. In the end, it didn’t matter; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he was unable to sign the bill into law on June 25 due to the noise of the “unruly mob” in the legislative chamber. The bill was effectively killed.

Abortions in Texas: Senate Bill 5 Would Have Had Significant Impact

Senate Bill 5 has been described as one of the most stringent abortion laws in the United States. As well as prohibiting abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, the proposed legislation required all abortion clinics to meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center. Currently only five of the state’s 42 clinics meet that requirement.

Another requirement of the bill was that doctors who perform abortions in the state must have admitting privileges in a hospital no further than 30 miles away from the clinic where abortions are performed. This would effectively prevent most abortions from being performed in rural areas of the state, and would require many women to travel hundreds of miles to obtain a legal abortion in Texas.

Republicans and pro-life supporters argued the purpose of the proposed changes was to improve women’s health care although some admitted they wanted to see the clinics closed. Democrats and groups such as Planned Parenthood viewed the bill as eliminating or drastically reducing legal abortions in the state, which could lead women to seek illegal and unsafe terminations.

As a result of the conflict, the Democrats decided to filibuster the bill on the last day of the session, hoping to run out the clock before midnight when the current session of the Senate was ending.

Senator Wendy Davis Conducted the Filibuster

The Democrats chose Senator Wendy Davis to conduct the filibuster. The senator began speaking at 11 in the morning with the intention of continuing to speak until midnight in order to run out the clock.

Under the parliamentary procedure governing the Texas Senate, the speaker conducting the filibuster must be standing at all times. Even leaning on a desk is impermissible. As well, the person conducting the filibuster must speak continuously, and is not entitled to take a break for meals or even a moment in the restroom.

Another requirement is that the speaker must not stray off topic. Anything he or she says not directly affecting the matter being debated is improper. If a lawmaker believes any of these rules are broken, they can raise a point of order. If the speaker sustains three points of order, the Senate can vote to end the filibuster.

Republicans raised a point of order when a colleague of Davis’s helped her put on a back brace, and two others when they felt she had gone off topic.

Around 10 p.m., after Davis spoke for about 11 hours, the Republicans, who have a majority in the Senate, moved for the filibuster to end. After almost two hours of arguing, the vote was taken shortly before midnight. The bill passed by a vote of 19 to 10.

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