AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — A nearly 13-hour filibuster and parliamentarian wrangling in the Texas Senate Tuesday (June 25) and into early Wednesday exhausted the final hours of the 83rd Texas Legislature’s special-called session and ended efforts to pass comprehensive pro-life legislation.
The final minutes of the session broke down in a cacophony of noise from protestors in the gallery and rules questions on the floor, leaving observers wondering if the measure passed by the midnight deadline and for several hours afterwards.
“Pandemonium in the Texas Capitol with protestors attempting to shout down the Senate,” a post on the Texas Values Facebook page stated shortly after the session ended. “But, praise God, it looks like SB 5 passed just before midnight.”
But the tone changed as the morning wore on. Around 3 a.m., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst returned to the podium and read from a prepared statement: “Members, regrettably, the constitutional time for the first called 83rd Legislature has expired. Senate Bill 5 cannot be signed in the presence of the Senate at this time and therefore cannot be enrolled.”
Facebook and Twitter feeds from pro-life advocates called the news very sad and acknowledged their hope Gov. Rick Perry would call a second special session. Dewhurst may have given them a glimmer of hope when he returned to the microphone following his prepared statement.
“It’s been fun. See you soon,” Dewhurst quipped.
But abortion-rights advocates cheered the ruling.
“Thanks to the powerful voices of thousands of Texans, #SB5 is dead,” Sen. Wendy Davis, D- Ft. Worth, said. “An incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them.”
Davis’ filibuster effort, while reportedly wearing a back brace for extra support, seemed to be cut short just after 10 p.m. following her third rules violation called by Dewhurst. Parliamentarian rules wrangling stalled a vote for almost another two hours.
A sharp rebuke by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D.-San Antonio, prompted cheers, howls and screams from abortion-rights protesters who packed the Senate gallery. As midnight approached, a loud mob gathered outside and tried to enter the gallery. The shouts continued to rise as the senators took a roll call vote on a motion introduced by Sen. Dan Patrick, R.-Houston, to accept SB 5 as passed by the House.
That vote passed, 19-10 but was not announced until 11:59 p.m. amidst the continued caterwauling from the gallery. Two or three minutes after midnight, senators gathered near the speaker’s podium and another roll call vote could be heard. But during the vote Sen. Royce West, D.-Dallas, could be heard shouting “It’s past midnight!”
Three hours later Dewhurst affirmed the timing.
In an interview Tuesday evening as Davis’s filibuster continued, Ann Hettinger, state director of Concerned Women for America, said she still held out hope the bill would pass.
“I have never seen such prayer coverage in Texas,” she said.
But Hettinger predicted there would be “a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking” about the bill’s demise.
Critics of the bill said it was a thinly veiled attempt to incrementally suspend all abortions in Texas. Rallies at the state capitol since Sunday drew abortion activists from across the state. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, showed up to cheer opponents.
Following the bill’s demise Richards tweeted, “We’re sending @WendyDavisTexas a BIG thank you for standing up for women. Will you?”
The bill, stating that the unborn baby can feel pain as early as 20 weeks of gestation, would place restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks. The current state standard is 24 weeks. The bill would require abortion clinics to upgrade their centers to meet standards of ambulatory centers; doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic; and stricter oversight of how the RU-486 abortion drug is given.
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.