Over 170,000 people tuned into Texas Senate’s livestream of the SB5 filibuster last night and this morning. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and every other social media outlet was full of “I Stand With Wendy”, “SB5”, “TexasSenate” and “FeministArmy” hashtags but we were still left without any real answers.
First, let’s talk about SB5. What is it and why do we care? SB5 (Senate Bill 5) is a proposed anti-choice Texas bill. It limits patient access and doctor’s discretion when it comes to a woman’s reproductive health. The bill outlaws abortion at or after 20 weeks and there is no exception for rape or incest victims. Those who qualify for an abortion must have two in-person doctor visits before the procedure. The bill also requires every abortion provider to be licensed at an ambulatory surgery center. This requirement costs providers about $1 million and forces them to comply with 117 pages of regulation. With these regulations, it is expected that all but five clinics would be able to afford to stay open. These restrictions in Texas make it very hard for women to have safe access to abortions. Thus increasing the risk of potentially deadly illegal abortions and the gross violation of a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.
Several Texas Senators were outraged and one superwoman took it upon herself to do something. The Senate was slated to vote on SB5 by midnight on June 25th (that could only take place without a filibuster). Senator, Wendy Davis almost single-handedly took on the filibuster herself. Her goal was to speak for 13 hours straight in order to prevent the Senate from having time to vote on the bill. The rules state that she must speak continuously without resting, leaning, sitting, using the restroom etc. She made it roughly 10 hours before it was ruled that she had violated her “third strike.” When performing a filibuster a Senator is given three strikes before they are no longer allowed to speak again, thus ending the filibuster. Republicans won two rulings stating that Davis broke the rules; once for getting improper assistance from a colleague who helped her adjust her back brace and once for straying from the topic. Later, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, acting as Senate president, found that Senator Davis had strayed from the topic again, thus using her third strike. She was discussing a 2011 law involving sonograms and abortions, which he ruled was non-germane to the abortion bill. A mess of discussions, appeals, motions and parliamentary inquiries ensued. Senator Kirk Watson got in a few words in Senator Davis’ defence. He reiterated some of the points Senator Davis made as well as demonstrated why everything she said was in fact germane to the bill. Still, the Republicans moved the vote to end Senator Davis’ filibuster so they could vote on the bill but not before Senator Leticia Van de Putte spoke up. She had been trying to get Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s attention before he called to end the filibuster but he had been blatantly ignoring her.
In this moment, Senator Leticia Van de Putte spoke for all women who have ever been silenced by men. She said, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?”. The countless spectators that had gathered in the rotunda ruptured in applause and cheering. She had said what we had all been thinking. Why is it that a room full of mostly men is voting on behalf of the bodies of Texas women? And why is it that the few women who are trying to speak up are being silenced? Because patriarchy still exists. The Republican Senators made it very clear that they intended to silence the women so they could go ahead and pass this invasive and borderline, if not actually, unconstitutional bill. The cheering of the crowd went on until after midnight. There was chaos on the Senate floor as they tried to vote on the bill over the noise. It seemed as though some senators thought they were voting to end the filibuster rather than on the actual bill. Even as the clock read 12:02 AM on June 26th, the Republicans passed SB5. All day long they forced Senator Davis to strictly adhere to the rules of the filibuster yet when it was beneficial for them, the rules were broken in order to pass the bill.
There was much chaos and confusion surrounding the actions in the few minutes after midnight. However, fortunately an incredible victory was achieved early this morning for Texas women when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst finally officially ruled that SB5 had not come to a legal vote before midnight and was therefore dead.
Last night was a demonstration of strong female leadership. Female Texas Senators stood up to their patriarchal male counterparts and fought for the right to make decisions about their own bodies. The 7 minutes of cheering that halted the Senate vote was the voice of the people: loud and clear. Social media rang out in support of Senators Davis, Van de Putte and Watson. People can try to silence women’s rights but we will scream back and we will be heard. Fuck patriarchy. Fuck silence.