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How Cheering Activists Defeated the Texas Abortion Bill

Hundreds of supporters in orange shirts were at the Texas Capitol throughout the day on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, hoping to watch State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, successfully filibuster Senate Bill 5

The measure would ban abortion after 20 weeks and require facilities that perform abortions to adopt surgical center standards. Opponents of the measure have said the bill would end up closing all but five abortion clinics in Texas.

While Davis worked to talk the bill to death ahead of a midnight deadline, Senate Republicans pushed back throughout the day. They took every opportunity to claim Sen. Davis was breaking the rules of a filibuster. After about 11 hours of talking, State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, interrupted Davis when she began talking about a sonogram abortion bill from the last Legislative session during her filibuster.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ruled Davis was not staying on topic by talking about an older abortion bill. It was the third infraction of the day for Davis and it ended her filibuster.

"After consultation with the Parliamentarian and going over what people heard, Sen. Campbell, your point of order is well taken and is sustained," Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said.

Democrats quickly attempted to stall the bill in other procedural ways, including asking question after question on how Davis had broken the rules. Finally, a frustrated State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, tried to make a parliamentary inquiry, but says she was overlooked as Republican males were called on to speak. So she spoke louder and got the attention of presiding Senate President -- State Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.

"At what point must a female senator raise her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?" Van de Putte asked.

After those words, the clapping and yelling continued for about 15 minutes, forcing the Senate to stop attempts to have a final vote on the bill. As the clock ticked down, Republicans scrambled to vote on the bill.

They finally got a vote … although Democrats claimed it happened after midnight. That's when the special session was constitutionally required to end. 

It took lawmakers nearly three hours to agree a vote on the bill had taken place, but had occurred after midnight – killing SB 5.

Dewhurst blamed the crowds for keeping the Senate from “protecting unborn babies."

"Senate Bill 5 passed 19-10, but with all the raucous and noise going on, I couldn’t adjourn sine die pending completion of administrative duties and right now I can’t sign the bill," he said.   

While Dewhurst and the Republicans chastised the behavior of visitors, Davis and the Democrats spent the night celebrating with their supporters.

Davis took time after the filibuster to join them in the Capitol rotunda. Hundreds of people stood in orange clothing all along the stairways and hallway outside the Senate. They raised their phones to take pictures.

"Most importantly what I want to say is thank you," Davis told them. "Today was democracy in action. And as my colleague Sen. [Royce] West said minutes ago, today was government for the people, by the people, of the people."

Back in the chamber, Davis reinforced how important the crowd had been to the process of the day.

"I think the women in Texas are being at the receiving end of some pretty abusive power plays here in the Texas Capitol," she said. "I am not proud of what happened in that regard today but I am proud of Texas."

While last night was a victory for Davis and Democrats, it could be short lived. Earlier this week Dewhurst hinted Gov. Rick Perry would call a second special session if "certain bills" weren't passed. Along with the abortion bill, a measure on transportation funding and one on juvenile justice didn't come up for a vote before the special session ended.

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