Texas Democrats launched a 13-hour filibuster in the state Senate on Tuesday to block a GOP-backed bill that would dramatically limit abortion access in the Lone Star State. The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, even in cases of rape and incest, and creates strict new building codes for abortion clinics that threaten to shut down nearly all of the state’s providers.
The bill passed through the House on Monday despite a 12-hour delay by Democrats and a citizens’ filibuster that brought hundreds of protesters to the State Capitol in Austin. “I saw the future of Texas last night, and it is not apathetic,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told The Huffington Post. “It is ready for a change.”
State Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) introduced Senate Bill 5 in a special 30-day session that Texas Governor Rick Perry called, in which only a simple majority is needed to send the bill to the floor instead of the usual two-thirds majority. Today is the last day of the session, so filibustering past midnight will kill the legislation, unless Perry decides to call another session. The bill caps abortion access at 20 weeks, even though the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade allows abortions up until the point that a fetus can live outside the womb (which is usually considered to be 24 weeks gestation). A dozen other states have already passed laws banning abortion after 20 weeks, but the laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in Arizona and Idaho.
The bill also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Finally, the bill requires clinics to comply with building codes designed for out-patient surgery centers found in hospitals, a provision that the bill’s opponents say would force most of the state’s remaining abortion providers to close. Only five of the state’s 42 clinics are expected to be able to comply with the new standards—in a state of 26 million people where women already travel an average of 43 miles to get an abortion. Texas clinics have already taken a heavy financial hit in the last two years, as legislators slashed state funds and refused federal Medicaid money in an attempt to shut down Planned Parenthood providers.
Last Thursday, more than 700 protesters, many of them women who had traveled from other parts of Texas, showed up to protest the bill and waited in line to testify for hours. When the chairman tried to end the public testimony, this happened:
State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) is leading Tuesday’s filibuster (in pink sneakers) and is expected to hold the floor and speak—without bathroom breaks—until the Senate adjourns at midnight. This isn’t her first rodeo: In 2011, Davis temporarily stalled a plan from Governor Perry that would have slashed $5.4 billion from public schools, turning her into something of an overnight celebrity. That filibuster, however, was only a little over an hour. According to the Texas Observer, Texas Democrats knew that the abortion bill would pass through the House, but they delayed it Sunday night so that Democrats in the Senate would have time to launch a filibuster.
Senate rules require a 24-hour waiting period before the Senate can debate the bill. So House Democrats hoped to delay SB 5 long enough to give Senate Democrats a chance to filibuster the bill
“There’s an assault on women in this state and this legislation is a prime example of that,” the Senate’s Democratic leader, Kirk Watson (D-Austin) told The Star-Telegram. “It’s important that a woman like Davis who’s the mother of two daughters will be the one standing. We will all be there providing assistance and help.”
The protesters plan to continue to camp out in the capitol building throughout the filibuster.
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