Democrats set up the filibuster after thwarting two attempts Monday by majority Republicans to bring the abortion bill to a floor vote ahead of its scheduled time.
“We want to do whatever we can for women in this state,” said Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, leader of the Senate Democrats.
The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Also, doctors would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles — a tall order in rural communities.
“If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas governor Ann Richards.
Democrats had warned the filibuster was coming. They chose Davis to lead the effort because of her background as a woman who had her first child when she was still a teenager.
“Democrats chose not to negotiate, and we could not get the block undone,” said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican who controls the flow of Senate legislation. He refused to declare the issue dead — but others were less optimistic.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said the Democrats never should have been allowed to put Republicans “in a box” and complained that many in the Senate GOP were “flying by the seat of their pants.”
But the bill’s bogging down began with Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who summoned lawmakers back to work immediately after the regular legislative session ended May 27 but didn’t add abortion to the special session to-do list until late in the process. The Legislature can only take up issues at the governor’s direction during the extra session.
Then, House Democrats succeeded in stalling nearly all night Sunday, keeping the bill from reaching the Senate until 11 a.m. Monday.
Debate in that chamber ranged from lawmakers waving coat-hangers on the floor and claiming the new rules are so draconian that women are going to be forced to head to drug war-torn Mexico to have abortions.
At one point, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Spring, errantly suggested that emergency room rape kits could be used to terminate pregnancies.