Yesterday, a senator in the Texas legislature named Wendy Davis attempted a thirteen-hour filibuster to prevent the passage of SB5, a bill that would have placed such onerous restrictions on clinics providing abortion services that it would have caused most of them to close thereby preventing many women from getting other basic health care services in their area. You can read more about it here.
This was not a threatened filibuster. This wasn’t even a read-the-dictionary filibuster. This was a stand-up, keep-talking, stay-on-topic, no-leaning, no-breaks-for-food/water/bathroom, good-old-fashioned, give-’em-hell-Harry filibuster during which Davis read testimony from and about women – constituents! – who would be affected by the bill. Even if you’re against making abortion legal, you should have concerns about the unintended effects it would have had on women’s health coverage, particularly for low-income women.
Around the eleven-hour mark, Davis stopped speaking due to objections by her colleagues who said some of her comments were not germane to the bill. One comment included a discussion about sonograms. You can decide for yourself whether a discussion about sonograms is germane to a bill about abortions, especially when many legislatures require women to get one before getting an abortion.
What followed in the next two hours was some of the most inspiring political theater and voice-of-the-people democracy I’ve ever seen. From Davis’s fellow legislators using procedural debate to extend the discussion past the midnight deadline for passage to Leticia Van Der Putte – a female legislator who spent the day at her father’s funeral – who asked the Senate President “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized by her male colleagues?” to the fifteen minutes of cheers from the gallery which refused to subside and therefore delayed the vote past midnight.
If ours is truly a government of, by and for the people, last night was a shining example.
Until the Senate President called an illegal vote on SB5 at 12:02am – which passed – and he tried to convince thousands of people that the measure was now law. At one point, even the AP reported it as such. Eventually, it became clear that the bill had not passed due to the deadline. The Texas Tribune reports on what happened over a tense few hours in the middle of the night.
Keep this in mind: At its height there were 182,000 people watching this play out via a live video stream. Thousands of people were discussing it on social media platforms. We watched as the deadline passed. Yet the Senate President felt empowered to literally ignore the voices of his colleagues and constiuents and call an illegal vote and then say it passed.
What’s astounding about what happened here is the bill could have been called in another special session. Or brought up in the next regular session. But rather than do that, the Senate President decided to hold an illegal vote and try to convince everyone who saw it that they didn’t see it.
If ever there was a moment that demonstrated the need for a participatory democracy, if ever there was a time when we saw the need for open goverment, if ever you needed proof that some politicians think they’re above the will of the people – especially when it comes to issues affecting women and minorities – this. was. it.
Regardless of your feelings about abortion and whether you’re angry or relieved that SB5 didn’t pass you should be angry at the way a small group of legislators tried to hold this illegal vote and lie to their constituents and people all over the country about it. You should be outraged that these people have such contempt for the rule of law.
When it comes to our government, we all need to pay attention. We need to watch. We need to participate. We need to have a debate. We need to raise our voices. We need to hold our leaders accountable. And we need to support the reporters who cover these issues and bring them to light like the folks at the Texas Tribune, which provided the live video stream of the proceedings.
Otherwise they’ll break the law right in front of your eyes and call you a liar for saying so.