Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, spoke for hours on end Tuesday to prevent the passage of Senate Bill 5, which would enact sweeping restrictions on the Texas abortion industry, but several East Texas legislators said the bill still had a chance of becoming law.
The 13-hour filibuster came at the end of the special legislative session, which ended after press deadline at midnight. If Sen. Davis could keep speaking long enough, the time allotted for debate will run out, and the bill would die along with other legislation yet to be debated on the floor.
Sen. Davis’ only threats were her own physical needs — she could not sit down, she could not leave, she could not lean, and she could not drift off topic. She spent much of the early hours reading testimonial letters regarding the negative impact the bill would have on women’s access to clinical abortions. Fellow opponents of the bill were doing their best to aid her by conducting a question and answer period, allowing her a chance to catch her breath and have a drink.
East Texas senators were concerned that she may be able to finish the 13-hour speech.
“At this point, it’s feasible that the filibuster will kill (the bill),” state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said Tuesday afternoon. “It actually looks pretty doable. People have gone on longer before.”
Eltife said he supported the bill.
Other senators were skeptical that she would last.
“We have the votes — 20 senators said they would support this bill, which is almost two thirds,” said state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who also is a licensed medical doctor. “It comes down to whether she can speak for 13 hours and still obey the rules. We are running out of time.”
Deuell spent about an hour questioning Sen. Davis Tuesday afternoon.
Even if the filibuster succeeds, Deuell said he expected the measure would eventually become law.
“If Gov. Perry calls another session though, we will be able to get this through,” he said. “And I think he will.”
If a special session is called, state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said he thought it would pass.
“There are more senators for it than against it, and most of the Texas people are for it, so it’s really just a procedural maneuver used to thwart the majority,” Hughes said late Tuesday afternoon. “Many of us, including myself, have already asked Gov. Perry to call another special session if this bill doesn’t come to a vote today. ... I just hope it is allowed to come to a vote, because if it does, it will pass.”
Deuell was quick to add that it was not an “anti-abortion bill.”
“This just raises the standards on abortion clinics,” he said. “This just increases safety for women. It doesn’t have to close one clinic.”
Others supported the bill for different reasons.
“I support this bill for a number of reasons,” state Rep. Matt Schaefer said. “There’s one provision that protects infants from 20 weeks on, which is about when they begin to feel pain. I believe in the right to life, and these infants are certainly entitled to protection. But then, basically, this will strengthen medical standards. It will have positive impacts on the women, by making these abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory centers.”
Hughes said, in his opinion, the bill was the most important in the session.
“The bill has a provision which would protect babies after five months, by which time scientific tests show they feel pain ...” he said. “However, abortions would still go forward, and it would still protect the mothers from guys like (Dr. Kermit) Gosnell in Philadelphia. That was a house of horrors, and authorities think there might be places like that in Houston and other places. ... This bill would protect mothers and babies from guys like that.”
Staff writer Faith Harper contributed to this report