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The Texas Filibuster

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Filibuster isn't a word we'd use on a regular basis. In fact, we'd struggle to use it in a sentence (other than that first one, obviously). However, chances are you may have heard it being bandied about in the papers, on the news and on Twitter this morning.

Here's why: in a bid to prevent anti-abortion legislation being passed in Texas, which would place new restrictions on abortion clinics and ban the practice after 20 weeks of pregnancy, senator Wendy Davis intended to filibuster the bill.

Also known as the Senate Bill 5, if passed it would mean the closure of almost every abortion clinic in Texas, a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long with 26 million people, making it incredibly hard for many women to get to clinics. Also, the law's provision that abortions be performed at surgical centres means only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics are currently designated to remain in operation.

Wendy Davis

But before we discuss the actual filibustering, who is Wendy Davis?

Growing up in Texas, Davis didn't have it too easy, as at the age of 14 she had to help her single mother with her three siblings. She too was a single mother at the age of 19.

The first person in her family to graduate from college, she then went on to study at Harvard Law School. After setting up her own practice, Davis spent nine years on the Fort Worth City Council, and was elected to the state senate in 2008, where she became the 12th Democrat in the upper chamber–just enough to keep the Republicans from closing off debate on bills.

She's sponsored bills on many different areas such as cancer prevention and sexual assault, and has used the filibuster technique before in 2008 and 2011.

The Filibuster

So, what is filibustering exactly? To filibuster a bill, the senator has to speak for a great length of time to prevent the legislation from being passed. With this case, Wendy Davis started at 11.18am and attempted to talk for 13 hours.

As no news channels were covering the event, over 182,000 people watched Davis address the Texas Senate on YouTube, a figure greater than the total viewing figures for some shows broadcast on free TV channels.

Davis even drew support from President Obama.

During the filibuster, Davis was required to remain standing unassisted on the floor without taking breaks (she was reportedly wearing trainers and a back brace to ensure she could keep going), with Republican opponents calling three violations in the final two hours before the deadline (three violations and the filibuster is put to an end, therefore meaning the bill could be passed).

Tension mounted when, at 11 hours into the filibuster, Davis turned to the anti-abortion law's relationship with the sonogram law, and Republican Sen. Donna Campbell stood up and claimed that Davis’s sonogram discussion wasn’t relevant.

If Campbell was right, that was Davis’s third violation and as such the anti-abortion bill could be passed. After a long break (40 minutes or so), Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst agreed that Davis’s discussion of the sonogram law wasn’t germane to the abortion law debate, and moved to end the filibuster.

The crowd reacted to the decision to end the filibuster:

However, this was extremely close to the deadline to pass the bill. And while it was thought the legislation was eventually put through, albeit after the deadline of midnight, the BBC has reported that the abortion bill came too late to pass. Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst admitted that the noise from the 400 or so protesters staging a ‘people’s filibuster’ meant he couldn’t sign the bill, i.e. Wendy won.

(Image: PA)

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