View From the Capitol

How Sen. Wendy Davis and rowdy protestors killed the strictest abortion bill in America

How Sen. Wendy Davis and protestors killed a Texas abortion bill

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The crowd inside the gallery. Photo by Jon Shapley
Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters an abortion bill at the Texas Capitol
Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster at the Capitol against SB5. Photo by Tom Reel
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Sen. Kirk Watson addressing the crowd. Photo by Jon Shapley
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The crowd inside the gallery. Photo by Jon Shapley
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Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters an abortion bill at the Texas Capitol
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sb5 Inside the gallery

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Perry has called another special session to take up abortion legislation.

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After a 10-hour filibuster, a Texas bill that would have imposed some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country was killed. Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) may have been the one carrying the torch in the Capitol on Tuesday night, but that torch wouldn’t have been lit without the thousands of Texas women and their supporters who rose up, mobilized and made their voices heard. Ultimately, they were the ones who sealed the fate of Senate Bill 5.

By 8 pm on June 25, the line to watch the filibuster in the gallery was three levels high and continued down the east hall of the first floor. Overflow rooms easily hosted more than 300 people glued to the monitors and Twitter.

At that point, Davis had been talking for almost eight hours with no food or water, and she hadn’t so much as leaned on her desk. (Per the rules of the filibuster, that stuff was all strictly forbidden.) Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had given her two strikes — one for supposedly veering off topic, and another for getting help from a fellow senator with her back brace. One more, and it’d be over.

 Minutes before the deadline, crowds in the gallery and in the rotunda erupted until past midnight, deafening any vote that could’ve taken place in the Senate.

The next several hours are a bit of a blur. The heated debates happening in the chamber were about rules, technicalities, points of order, points of inquiry and points of whatever-these-guys-could-think-of. It was nearly impossible to know what was going on. Things changed rapidly as we approached the midnight deadline, which would signal the end of the special session and death of Senate Bill 5.

At about 10 pm, Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican from Central Texas, got a third strike against Davis and her filibuster. Commence the uproar in the Senate gallery. While the crowd’s instinct was to storm the Senate chamber, Democratic senators used every legislative tool in their arsenal to stall a vote and question the third strike.

Minutes before the deadline, crowds in the gallery and in the rotunda erupted until past midnight, deafening any vote that could’ve taken place in the Senate. At 12:01 am, the bill was as good as dead.

But we all know Texas, and we all know that it ain’t over ’til it’s over. At about 12:05 am, reporters began tweeting from the chamber that a vote had taken place and that it counted. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Republican senators said that because of the noise from the crowd, no one could hear the senators starting to vote before the midnight deadline. Reporters captured screenshots from the Texas Legislature Online website, which posted that the vote had taken place on June 26, not on June 25 — the official last day of the special session.

To add to the confusion, the website was then mysteriously edited moments later to show that the vote had in fact taken place on June 25.

Deliberation over the fate of Senate Bill 5 went on for another hour, and most people stayed for the long haul. Cecile Richards and company were still huddled around a podium, anxiously awaiting word themselves.

I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Ken Lambrecht, who at around 2 am received a text message from Davis from inside a closed-door meeting with Dewhurst and the senators. Cecile Richards took the mic and declared victory.

“This is straight from Sen. Wendy Davis. ... ‘First, I love you guys,’” Richards read from the iPhone. “‘The lieutenant governor has agreed that SB 5 is dead.’”

Word spread quickly that Dewhurst finally acknowledged that the vote had in fact taken place after midnight. Dewhurst made the official announcement around 3 am. It was a moment veteran lawmakers, veteran Capitol reporters, and longtime advocates and activists said they hadn’t seen in more than a decade, if ever.

The power of citizen mobilization, viral social media and technology brought the live show to spectators around the country, including President Barack Obama. The people’s voices prevailed. Regardless of what comes next, the death of Senate Bill 5 was a victory for civic engagement and the future of Texas.