Wild Night in Texas as Abortion Filibuster Leads to Disputed Midnight Vote

Pro-choice activists defeated a controversial abortion bill in the State Senate, but not without the help an epic filibuster, a memorable question, and a raucous crowd that forced a disputed vote into overtime.

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Update: 3:30 a.m.: Reports out of the statehouse now say that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has conceded that the vote took place after midnight, and will not count. If so, the bill is dead, at least for now. (Republicans are free to try and revive it in the next legislative session.)

Update Wednesday, 2:20 a.m.: Did the Texas State Senate pass a restrictive abortion bill before their midnight deadline on Tuesday night? Depends on who you ask! That's more or less the take on the chaotic scene in the Texas state legislature on Tuesday evening after Senator Wendy Davis's marathon filibuster attempt.

First, a recap: On Tuesday, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis attempted a 13-hour filibuster in the State Senate to prevent a vote on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in Texas. The bill needed to come to a vote before the special legislative session reached its midnight deadline. If Davis was still talking — thereby preventing a vote — at that time, the bill would expire, effectively delaying any action on the measure. And while Davis's filibuster was halted 2 hours before that deadline, midnight came and went, seemingly without a vote, thanks to a series of parliamentary inquiries from Democratic Senators, and later, from sustained cheering from the gallery. But then, apparently, the Texas GOP gave themselves an extension.

Despite accounts from reporters and Democrats in the room (not to mention those watching the livestream), who saw the vote begin after the midnight deadline, the abortion bill officially passed on time, according to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and therefore the Associated Press.

But many reporters on the scene seem reluctant to agree: 

Even many Senators seemed unsure about the status of the bill:

While the Texas State Senate's site appears to show the final vote on the bill happening on June 26 — after midnight:

Minutes after The Atlantic Wire took a screenshot of the Senate's website, the record of the vote changed the dates to 6/25. We're not sure if that's the same record cited here or not:

Democrats circulated a similar set of records to reporters on the scene:

While legislators managed to delay the vote for over an hour after Davis's filibuster was halted, it's the scene 15 minutes before the midnight deadline that will clearly be the most memorable of the evening: Senator Leticia Van De Putte asked the Senate chair why her motion to adjourn was not recognized before the roll call vote on the bill began. "At what point must a female senator raise her hand and her voice to be recognized by her male colleagues?" she said, prompting the crowd in the gallery to erupt in cheers that lasted for the remaining 15 minutes, taking the chamber past the deadline. The Senate was unable to regain order in the room until several minutes after midnight. 

In any case, as things stand now, Republicans are saying the bill passed just before the deadline, while pretty much everyone else is saying that it didn't, though some media reports are acknowledging the Lieutenant Governor's call that it passed on time. So the question now is whether the vote will stand in either the short or long term, something Democrats have already vowed to challenge. It looks like we'll have to wait to see how this mayhem shakes out. 

Update: 11:53 p.m. Two hours before the end of a special session in the Texas legislation, State Republicans ended State Senator Wendy Davis's filibuster of a proposed 20-week abortion ban when the Senate chair ruled that Davis had committed her third violation — speaking about an existing sonogram law while addressing the effect of the abortion bill on the state's women. That topic, apparently, was not germane to the debate (current law requires a woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure, while the doctor describes and displays the images). But the effort to prevent a vote on the bill isn't over yet.

Democrats appealed the decision, resulting in a series of time-using parliamentary inquiries, which were ongoing with just a little over an hour before the end of the session — meaning that the Senate still isn't guaranteed to vote on the bill. While the appeal process went on, Davis remained standing:

Davis's two previous violations were for breaking procedure when she was handed a back brace, and for a second "non-germane" point of order.  Davis was attempting to speak until the end of a special session at midnight tonight, in order to prevent a vote on the abortion bill. As the third point of order was sustained, the crowded gallery broke into shouts, eventually settling into a loud chant of "let her speak!"

At least some of the crowd was escorted out of the gallery, resulting in a sit in:

Davis's filibuster didn't go unnoticed:

Over 100,000 people were tuned into the Texas Tribune's livestream of the proceedings at around 11:30 p.m.

Original Post: Texas State Senator Wendy Davis may or may not be able to stop a controversial anti-abortion bill from becoming law, but she's not going to let it get through without a fight. Davis took the floor of Senate chamber on Tuesday — armed with a pair of comfortable pink sneakers — and will attempt to filibuster the bill, which would ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and create onerous new restrictions that would force all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics to shut down.

The special legislative session currently in progress will end tonight at midnight, whether she is still talking or not. So if Davis can hold out for just under 13 hours (she began talking at 11:18 a.m. local time) she can prevent a vote and effectively kill the entire bill, since Governor Rick Perry would have to call another special 30-day session for it to be reintroduced. Earlier this year, Rand Paul held the floor of the U.S. Senate for 12 hours and 52 minutes in an attempt to block John Brennan's appointment to CIA director.

The bill, which was passed first by the House of Representatives, got national attention this week when the bill's Republican sponsor suggested that rape kits can prevent pregnancy because a "woman can get cleaned out." Opponents of the bill argue that some of the provisions (like the 20-week ban) are unconstitutional, but could still be passed and require a lengthly legal challenge to strike it down. It's become one of the most contentious state fights in recent memory, with supporters on both sides filling the galleries for the last week.

Just like the U.S. Senate, Davis can hold the floor as long as she doesn't sit down and doesn't stop talking. (She can also take extended questions from other Senators, without yielding control, but must remain standing.) In order to help fill out the time, Davis solicited stories about abortion and women's health care so that she could read them aloud during her speech.

The session is being live streamed on YouTube (via the The Texas Tribune) and you can watch it below. WFAA is keeping a countdown clock on its website to indicate how much time is left until the session ends.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.