Texas abortion bill thwarted after marathon filibuster
A bill setting strict limits on abortions in Texas was thwarted early Wednesday after a lengthy filibuster and a voting session interrupted by rowdy spectators.
Texas state Senator Wendy Davis spoke in the 31-member senate gathered in the state capital of Austin to oppose a measure that activists say is so draconian it would virtually ban abortion across the state.
The Dallas Morning News clocked her speech at 12.5 hours, though other media had slightly different figures. Davis's goal was to speak until midnight, after which the legislative session would be officially closed and all work ended.
By strict Texas rules Davis had to stand for the duration, and was banned from drinking, eating, taking a break, going to the bathroom, or even leaning on her desk.
"I'm rising on the floor today to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored," Davis said in her opening statement.
"These voices have been silenced by a governor who made blind partisanship and personal political ambition the official business of our great state."
Davis also had to remain strictly on topic, and her Republican colleagues kept a close eye and were ready to pounce on any deviation.
The 50-year-old Democrat, a triathlete and marathon runner, came equipped with comfortable running shoes and a back brace for the ordeal.
Davis received a wave of support on social media. Even President Barack Obama offered encouragement: "Something special is happening in Austin tonight," he tweeted, using the hashtag #StandWithWendy.
Davis spoke until three challenges to her filibuster were upheld around 10:00pm (GMT 0300) local time. However Democrats introduced procedural measures, further dragging out the process.
At 11:45pm, with 15 minutes to go before midnight, the Republican majority attempted to hold a vote. But the crowd of opponents that had packed the gallery clapped, cheered and shouted so loudly that the voice vote was drowned out.
There were not enough police officers to restore order, local media reported.
The acting senate president, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, initially said that the vote was held on time, and that the bill was approved by a 19-10 margin.
Democrats vehemently objected, and for nearly three hours the fate of the bill was unclear.
"Today was democracy in action," Davis told the crowd that met her after midnight, with the fate of the bill still unknown, the Austin-American Statesman reported. "You all are the voices we were speaking for from the floor."
Finally around 3:00am, Dewhurst acknowledged that bill opponents had run out the clock.
In Texas, the state legislature meets every other year, but local media said that Republican Governor Rick Perry could call the body back into session earlier.