Wendy Davis, Kirk Watson and other Senate Democrats signal a "no" vote during the SB 5 debate.
Patrick Michels

Live Blog: Senate Filibuster on Anti-Abortion Bill


Above: As the gallery shouts through the minutes before midnight, Wendy Davis, Kirk Watson and other Senate Democrats signal their opposition to Senate Bill 5.

3:24 a.m.: In the end, after the 13-hour filibuster and all the wrangling over rules, Wendy Davis and her fellow Texas Democrats could do only so much. In the end, it was the citizens in the gallery who made the difference late Tuesday night.

With the Texas Senate poised to approve one the harshest anti-abortion laws in the country—just 15 minutes before the midnight deadline—and Senate Democrats apparently out of maneuvers, the crowd took over. Thousands of orange-clad abortion-rights activists who packed the Texas Capitol all day began roaring louder and louder until they literally shouted down the final minutes of the 30-day special session before Republicans could pass the bill.

What followed was three hours of confusion during which no one was sure if the bill actually passed. Republican senators were running around claiming the bill had passed before a midnight deadline, but many observers who watched the debate live didn’t see it that way.

The initial time stamp on the Capitol website and on Senate documents placed the vote at 12:02 or 12:03 on June 26. But then someone mysteriously changed the time stamp to make it appear SB 5 passed before the deadline (see the post below for photographic evidence). The time stamp evidence, circulated on Twitter, eventually forced GOP leaders to admit defeat, at least for tonight.

Just after 3 a.m., the Senate finally reconvened following a lengthy private meeting. Dewhurst conceded from the dais that SB 5 hadn’t passed before the deadline and was, in fact, dead.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announces that, “regrettably,” the session ran out before SB 5 could be signed.  Patrick Michels

He then walked over to the press table to meet with reporters. “This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “An unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics has tried all day to derail legislation that has been intended to protect the lives and the safety of women and babies. … I’m very frustrated… I didn’t lose control of what we were doing. We had an unruly mob of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in here, and we couldn’t communicate with our members.” Then he walked off.

It’s hard to sum up all that transpired today. An all-day filibuster in which Sen. Davis valiantly staged a one-person fight against the strict anti-abortion bill, a stand that inspired thousands of supporters to flood the Capitol.

And when it appeared the bill might just pass, it was those supporters who took over: screaming, cheering, and shouting down Republican attempts to push a final vote. The Senate’s longest-serving member, John Whitmire, said he’d never seen anything like it. No one had.

Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), who authored the infamous pre-abortion sonogram bill in 2011, wasn’t so thrilled with the outburst from the gallery that halted the vote. “It was inappropriate,” he said. “It was a shame.” Asked if he was blaming the crowd, Patrick said, “We shouldn’t have been here on the last day of a 30-day session.”

Sen. Wendy Davis speaks with the crowd outside the Senate chamber after stalling Senate Bill 5.
Sen. Wendy Davis speaks with the crowd outside the Senate chamber after midnight.  Patrick Michels

Davis and her supporters reveled in the victory. When she spoke with reporters after the filibuster, Davis credited the crowd. “I felt empowered by their presence, by their support, by their letters,” she said. “They made a difference. They are what makes Texas so amazing, and I’m proud to be a Texan tonight. ” The first thing she had to eat after the filibuster? Yogurt.

“Women showed a lot of strength today,” Davis said. “They showed they are paying attention. … Women in Texas are tired of being on the receiving end of some pretty abusive power plays at the Texas Capitol.”

So what now?

For abortion rights advocates, this may be a temporary victory. Gov. Rick Perry may well call another 30-day special session—he can call as many as he likes—and the Legislature may yet pass SB 5. (As Dewhurst said early this morning, closing the session, “It’s been fun. See you soon.”)

But this night belonged to the the people who stormed the Capitol to defeat a bill they reviled. It was a night that may help revive a dormant Democratic Party. But most of all, it’s a night no one who saw it will soon forget.

—Writing and reporting by Carolyn Jones, Dave Mann, Forrest Wilder and Beth Cortez-Neavel

1:24 a.m.: Democratic senators are claiming that the time stamp on the vote has been changed. The following is a photo of Rep. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa holding two different time stamps. This indicates that the time was altered to make it look like a vote for Senate Bill 5 was taken on June 25 instead of June 26 as the time stamp originally appeared.

Reports, like this one from Observer staff writer Forrest Wilder, place the official vote at 12:02 a.m. on June 26. —Jonathan McNamara


Photo from twitter.com/TXChuy

12:40 a.m.: Well, we made it to midnight, but no one actually knows what happened.

In a dramatic scene, Sen. Davis’ filibuster was cut off, but Democratic senators stalled with questions about procedural rules till 11:45 p.m. Sen. Robert Duncan, presiding in place of Dewhurst, was about to start the roll call on a procedural vote before the final vote on the bill. But Sen. Van de Putte, angry that she hadn’t been recognized earlier, interrupted with a parliamentary inquiry and asked: At what point must a female senator raise her voice to be heard by her male colleagues?

The gallery erupted. And the cheers kept going, drowning out the action on the floor, as Duncan asked for the roll call.
“Members, we’re in the middle of a vote,” Duncan said, somewhat weakly. The yelling got louder. He made another attempt to conduct the vote but that only seemed to increase the shouts from the gallery. Duncan asked repeatedly for order in the chamber.

But order never returned, and state troopers moved in, trying to remove protesters from the gallery. It was chaos in the Senate that most observers had never seen.

Sen. Royce West waves his cell phone to show it's past midnight during the vote on SB 5.
In a hurried vote on SB 5, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst checks his watch while Sen. Royce West waves his cell phone to show it’s past midnight.  Patrick Michels

At two minutes to midnight, Sen Duncan asked tentatively if he could have some order, if he could have some attention. He didn’t get it. So he started the vote anyway, said something about the previous question having 17 votes, but his voice was drowned out and then the crowd erupted because when the clock struck midnight.

Republicans immediately started claiming they had snuck the final vote in before midnight and that SB 5 had passed. But that didn’t appear to be the case, and Democrats claim SB 5 didn’t pass before the midnight deadline.

So did SB5 pass or didn’t it? No one seems to know. At the moment, Senators are milling about trying to figure out what happened. In the meantime, state troopers are trying to quell what sounds like a citizen’s riot in the rotunda. Stay tuned …

10:55 p.m.: Well folks, Sen. Davis fell into the third and final legislative trap by having the temerity to think that the 2011 sonogram bill is germane to the anti-abortion bill being discussed tonight. Senator Donna Campbell raised a point of order against Davis, saying a woman having to undergo a mandatory sonogram as well as a 24-hour wait before having an abortion was irrelevant to abortion restrictions. If the POO is sustained, Sen. Davis would have her third strike of the night, and the Senate chamber would get to vote on ending the debate.

After a long, (long, long) deliberation, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced that the point of order was sustained. The crowd in the gallery howled; a few seconds later, shouts echoed throughout the Capitol as the news reached the crowd outside on the slightly time-delayed live feed and on Twitter streams.

Sen. Hegar, SB 5’s sponsor, sprang to his feet, no doubt to initiate the motion to end the debate. Chants of “let her speak” rang down from the gallery. Sen. Watson immediately raised a parliamentary inquiry about whether the chamber can vote or appeal Dewhurst’s decision to sustain the POO. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst accordingly stepped off the podium (was that relief I saw on his face?) and handed the gavel to Sen. Duncan. His first statement was that there would be strict enforcements against disruptions in the chamber.

Reportedly, some ‘unruly’ bill opponents were escorted from the chamber. Chants of “shame” and “Wendy” occasionally erupted from the rotunda and outside the Senate chamber. According to bill opponents in the rotunda, state troopers locked the doors to the Capitol so that no one else could enter.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators tried a new approach: debating the rules, keeping the Senate parliamentarian very busy and clock moving.

As one bill opponent, @JennyBlair, wryly observed via Twitter: “Molly Ivins was right #Txlege is finest free entertainment in Tx. If you can stomach it.”

We await the chair’s decision on the Democrats’ appeals. Will they deliberate till midnight?

9:24 p.m.: Earlier today I had a chance to interview Cecile Richards, head of national Planned Patenthood and daughter of the former Texas governor. Here are excerpts from our interview.

Carolyn Jones: Did today’s turnout at the Capitol against Senate Bill 5 surprise you?

Cecile Richards: It’s been amazing … Folks are beginning to connect the dots … This is, in fact, the most aggressive attack on women’s rights and women’s health that we’ve seen in Texas in decades. People are voting with their feet. To see a people’s filibuster in this Capitol is quite inspiring.

CJ: Do you think this will change the political picture in Texas?

CR: Yes, I do. I think the picture is changing in Texas anyway but I think all this is going to do is speed that process up. There’s a lot of veterans of these battles in the Capitol today and there’s a lot of people who’ve never been here before and that’s what encourages me … all the attacks on Planned Parenthood specifically, but more broadly on women’s health and women’s health care, has ignited a whole new generation of young women and men. I saw a lot of them in line today at the Capitol.

CJ: Do you see any blowback from this for the GOP in Texas or nationally?

CR: There are those within the Republican Party who are traditional Republicans … moderates who do not believe that government interference in women’s personal business is part of what their party platform should be. Unfortunately they’re not in charge. And so we’re seeing in states all across the country that the most extreme elements of the party are really driving the agenda. That’s really really unfortunate and I think it’s politically unwise. … In the meantime, a lot of women are going to suffer and that’s what concerns us at Planned Parenthood because literally, in Texas, there are women who do not have access now to breast cancer screening, to cervical cancer screening, to birth control to their well woman check ups simply for the political reasons of the Governor.

CJ: If Gov. Perry calls another session anyway, how would you respond to that?

CR: You know, we fight ‘em as they come. We’re not giving up … they’ve rung the bell that can’t be unrung. There are folks that have stayed here all hours of the night and the morning and they are not going to give up. I would really hope that Governor Perry recognizes that there are more important issues to the people of Texas — passing a transportation bill … that they have literally refused to pass in order to try to draw out debate on this bill. I would hope that at some point the Governor recognizes that he shouldn’t use this process for his own political gain and get back to the business of governing

CJ: Will you be here till midnight?

CR: Absolutely

7:48 p.m.: For a moment, I thought it was all over but it isn’t … or at least not yet.

At 6.30 p.m., Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) raised a parliamentary inquiry about whether Sen. Davis could repeat testimony she’d read earlier. While Lt. Gov. Dewhurst consulted with parliamentarians, Sen. Ellis slipped Sen. Davis a back brace.

And Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) pounced. He raised a point of order, tattling to the Dew that Ellis had put a back brace on Davis. A long huddle at the front podium ensued.

Tommy Williams and Wendy Davis
Sen. Tommy Williams raised a point of order hoping to help force an early end to Davis’ filibuster.  Patrick Michels

Dewhurst looked flummoxed. Eventually, he said that this point of order (referred to by Lege insiders, most unattractively, as a POO) was unprecedented but, because it referred to the comfort of a member, it should go to a vote.

Per protocol, three members were given a chance to speak beforehand. Sen. Ellis pleaded with the Senate not to destroy the last remaining traditions of the body. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) said that the rules referred specifically to filibuster rules preventing members from leaning on “his desk” or sitting on “his chair”. Therefore, Sen. Zaffirini argued, sweetly, the rules don’t apply to Sen. Davis. Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) appealed to the senators’ personal relationships with each other and asked them to respect the traditions of the body and let Sen. Davis finish her filibuster.

In closing, Sen Williams argued that the rules are the rules and asked his colleagues to vote with him. They did, validating that Ellis helping Davis put on the back brace was a violation. Sen. Davis received her second warning for violating the rules. She is now one warning away from breaking the filibuster.

Can Sen. Davis get through the next four hours without falling into some more Republican-maneuvered POO? We’ll see…

6:30 p.m.: The rumored Republican effort to break Sen. Davis’s filibuster may be underway. At 5.30 p.m. when Sen. Davis discussed the 2011 Legislature’s defunding of women’s health services, Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) raised a point of order to suggest that the discussion wasn’t germane to the topic. If you recall, under filibuster rules, the filibusterer must speak about only the issue under consideration. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst sustained the point of order, issuing a warning for Sen. Davis. Three warnings means that she has violated the rules of a filibuster and the issue must go up for a vote before the whole Senate.

A few minutes later, during an exchange between Sen. Davis and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) about the legal underpinnings of Roe v. Wade, Nichols raised the same point of order about relevance. After shuffles between Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and his parliamentarian, the point of order was sustained. Watson received a warning.

Davis and Watson went back to discussing Roe v. Wade, with specific references to how its legal underpinnings are relevant to SB 5. For the third time, Sen. Nichols raised a point of order. After a long, and nail-biting huddle around the front podium, the Dewhurst over-ruled it. There was a palpable sigh of relief from everyone dressed in orange.

But Republican senators are narrowing the subject matter that Sen. Davis can discuss for the next six hours. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for her to ‘stay germane’. How many more legislative traps can she circumvent before midnight?

Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth).
Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth).  Patrick Michels

4:57 p.m.: Before noon today, Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) launched a dramatic filibuster to block passage of a harsh anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate. To kill the measure, she must keep speaking until midnight—13 hours total—without eating, drinking, sitting down or even leaning against anything.

To recap: Senate Bill 5 would implement some of the strictest anti-abortion restrictions in the nation. It would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require all abortion clinics to refit their facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, prevent clinicians from prescribing the abortion pill remotely, and require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital no more than 30 miles from the abortion clinic.

Sen. Davis entered the Senate chamber this morning wearing a bulky coat and orange running shoes. She received an uproarious standing ovation from the gallery, filled mostly with orange-clad opponents of SB 5. Outside the gallery, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, Cecile Richards, who had flown into Austin from Washington last night (and sported a jubilantly orange scarf), greeted members of the public as they entered the gallery. While bill opponents were upbeat, bill supporters dressed in blue, looked glum.

Watching a filibuster ought to be boring. After all, according to Senate rules, a filibusterer may not eat, drink, lean, speak softy, stray off topic or take a bathroom break. Any violation of these rules or break of more than five seconds could allow another senator to call for a vote and pass the bill. And there’s no question SB 5 has the votes to pass. It’s all up to Davis. She must keep going until midnight, when the 30-day special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Rick Perry ends.

How long can someone standing straight and speaking a bill to death hold our interest? For a long time, it turns out. Sen. Davis started by reading (very slowly) the letters from the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and others, criticizing various aspects of the bill. Then she switched to reading the personal testimonies of members of the public who had tried, and failed, to give public testimony at the House committee hearing last Thursday. Some of the stories were so heart-wrenching that Davis cried openly, as did many in the gallery.

But besides tears, there’s also been a great deal of nail-biting to hold public interest. Rumors flew about earlier today suggesting that Republican senators might find a procedural loophole to break the filibuster. A fevered examination of the Senate rules suggests that loopholes might exist, but would they be used? Breaking a filibuster would be a huge departure from Senate tradition and set a precedent for any future filibusters. Are Republicans willing to go that far for SB 5, especially given that Gov. Rick Perry can call another special session of the Legislature to pass the bill?

Meanwhile, the Tarrant County conservatives called a press conference at 3:30 p.m. but it turns out that they were just announcing that they had delivered 84,610 blank sheets of paper to Sen. Davis’s office each to represent “a child’s life that was ended in 2011.”

All the while, Davis keeps talking, interrupted occasionally to answer questions from her colleagues. As of this writing, Davis is entering her sixth hour.

Click here for a live feed of the proceedings and a countdown clock, or follow Twitter hashtags #SB5 and #txlege for updates. And, of course, the Observer will be reporting on this filibuster till the bitter midnight end.