Why Wendy Davis and Her Texas Filibuster Matter

The war on women has been going on in the states for years; Texas citizens rose up against it — and their voices were heard.

Last night the Capitol Dome in Austin, Texas, and social media around the world exploded with fervor as State Senator Wendy Davis entered the last few hours of a truly epic filibuster.

Davis, whose office was firebombed by abortion foes last year, was literally standing up and speaking out against an omnibus abortion bill Republicans were trying to force through in a special “emergency” session called by Governor Rick Perry — because restricting abortion is apparently an emergency on par with the transportation budget.

The bill would have banned abortions after twenty weeks, directly contravening Roe, and would also have placed onerous restrictions on abortion clinics, via laws called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider). Some estimates I saw said that if passed, the provision would shrink the number of abortion providers across the vast sweep of Texas territory from dozens to a handful, putting the procedure out of reach for many.

The idea for Davis: If she could keep talking from 11 a.m. until midnight, the session would run out, and the bill would wither on the vine.

And she won. Because of Davis and the gallery of supporters calling themselves the #FeministArmy on Twitter, the clock on that bill has run out. Davis spoke and read testimony for hours, buoyed by clever stalling attempts from her colleagues and enthusiasm from the gallery which culminated in ten minutes of applause and cheers until midnight. The GOP tried to shut Davis down by declaring her words on things like sonograms (mandatory in Texas before an abortion), Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood “not germane.”

But their disingenuous efforts, in the face of such massive backlash and hundreds of thousands of witnesses on a livestream and Twitter, shriveled. Finally, after haggling over the timestamp on the moment of the vote, Davis’s opponents ran out of options. The session is over; the bill, for now, is dead.

What Davis was fighting, a kind of anti-choice ram-rodding in the statehouse, isn’t unusual. In fact, restricting reproductive rights is one of the most common tactics the state-level GOP has used across the country since the wave of Tea Party candidates took office in 2010, punching holes in the rights afforded by Roe every year. It was called the “War on Women” by national media in 2011. But it never stopped.

Guttmacher institute

Local activists in red states have been fighting hard and mustering force against these provisions, but have — with notable exceptions, like the outcry against Virginia’s forced transvaginal ultrasound law — been unable to stop the overall steamroll of anti-choice legislation. Even now, bills linger in Ohio and Wisconsin. They may still pass.

We’ve watched our rights get chipped away until they’re nominal. It’s been agonizing.

So what we saw last night was definitely about Wendy Davis, an experienced politico and rising star who managed to make it into double-digit hours of filibustering without a food, rest, or bathroom break.

It was about a group of female legislators who said “no” to bullying tactics from a male governor and senators.

It was about the strength and courage of hundreds of Texas women and allies who flooded the capital, and supporters who sent them food and encouragement for days.

It was about grassroots feminists in red states who are furious, organized, and not going to take it anymore.

And it was about people off all stripes across the country who are desperate to stem a national tide of disrespect for bodily autonomy, equal opportunity, and the right to control our destinies.

We stood with Wendy last night, and we will stand with the next Wendy Davis, wherever he or she pops up.

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