Why It’s Too Soon To Celebrate Texas’ Anti-Abortion Defeat
After House Republicans in Texas passed Senate Bill 5 late Sunday night, the bill moved to the Senate for a final vote on Tuesday. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) took to the Senate floor with her back brace and pink sneakers, ready to filibuster the anti-abortion bill — and she succeeded, avoiding a final vote on SB 5 by holding the floor for 11 hours.
Texas filibuster rules prohibit members from sitting, leaning, or discussing anything other than the bill at hand — Republicans even tried to cut off the filibuster when she readjusted her back brace. They later made a desperate attempt to change the time stamp on the Legislature’s webpage when SB 5 came to a vote and passed after the midnight deadline.
While Wendy Davis, Texas Democrats, and pro-choice advocates can claim a stunning victory for what happened Tuesday night, the celebration may be temporary. Republican governor Rick Perry has the authority to call a 30-day special legislative session to bring forth any bill of significance. If he does so, an anti-abortion bill similar to SB 5 will surely be brought to a vote and will unquestionably pass.
As Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, told Mother Jones, “The practical route for [Republicans] to follow is recognize defeat here, and focus on getting identical legislation passed in the second special session where time will not be an issue like in the first…Davis would need to filibuster for two weeks.”
Senate Bill 5 was one of the most severe anti-abortion bills to be introduced in the country. Most notably SB 5 would restrict all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, if passed, it would immediately close 90 percent of the state’s abortion clinic — and if the remaining clinics are unable to update their equipment within a short period of time, they too would see their doors close.
Clinics in Texas are safe for now, thanks to Wendy Davis and the over 800 protesters who made their presence known at the state House in the preceding days. But a bill similar to SB 5 will likely be introduced and passed by the end of July.
In addition to the abortion battle, Davis and her Democratic colleagues in the state have another difficult challenge ahead. After the Supreme Court shot down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, Republicans across the country now have the leverage to gerrymander the voting districts across Texas.
This happened in 2011, and Davis was nearly unseated after minorities in her district were divided into other districts, making it difficult for a Democrat to be elected. She said minority voters in her district “were being separated very purposely from each other—and therefore from the power to ever express their preference at the ballot box again.” Davis took this fight to a federal court in 2012, where judges ruled in her favor–she went on to be re-elected by a small margin.
Now that Section 4 and in effect Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act have been struck down, Davis and Texas Democrats will no longer have a case to bring before a federal court. Republicans will be free to gerrymander the state’s districts and Democrats will have difficulty getting elected in largely white conservative districts. With representatives like Wendy Davis absent from the legislature, who then will speak for the women and minorities in the state? If Texas Republicans succeed in passing a bill similar to SB 5 in a second special session this summer, they will certainly face no difficulty passing any other discriminatory bills they can conjure up in the future.
AP Photo/Eric Gay