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Wendy Davis took on Texas bullies on abortion and won

In the wee hours Wednesday, someone stole onto Wendy Davis’s Wikipedia page and changed her occupation from “attorney” to “The LeBron James of filibustering.”

In what seemed like an Internet instant, the 50-year-old onetime teen mother and Harvard Law School graduate went from obscure Texas legislator to American feminist sensation. The hashtag #StandWithWendy trended on Twitter.

The Democratic Texas state senator took the floor of her chamber for 11 hours to filibuster against yet another tiresome conservative effort to turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights. It was her second attention-grabbing filibuster. In 2011, she engaged the same tactic to beat back $4 billion in state funding cuts to education.

Despite the best efforts of Republicans to undermine her, and restrictive rules that kept her from eating, drinking, using the restroom, touching the podium or straying off topic, Davis managed to run out the clock, preventing her colleagues from voting on a bill that would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks. (Actually, they voted to pass the bill, 17 to 12, but it was later determined that the vote took place after a midnight deadline.)

The bill was damaging beyond its imposition of a timeline for abortions. (The Supreme Court, in 1973’s Roe vs. Wade said that states may not restrict abortions until after fetal viability, which is generally agreed to be around 24 to 25 weeks of gestation.)

Although it did make an exception for a woman’s physical health, it did not make an allowance for mental health, nor did it allow abortion in the case of rape or incest. The proposal would also have imposed new expensive upgrades on clinics, which would have forced most of the state’s 42 abortion clinics to close, leaving about five to serve the needs of Texas women. Which is, of course, the point.

(Also, I am starting to feel like I could type this stuff with my eyes closed. It is the same story in state after state. Even our Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to ban abortion after 20 weeks, a vain exercise given the Senate’s Democratic majority. But hey, those House Republicans have failed to repeal Obamacare 37 times, so obviously this is a body that excels in the futile gesture.)

[Updated 3:25 p.m., June 26: On Wednesday, Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for a special legislative session July 1, where the bill, SB 5, will be taken up again. ]

“Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state,” Perry said in a statement. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn…. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do.”

Terri Burke, executive director of the Texas ACLU, said she thinks it’s likely the bill will pass this time.]

Even if it does, what Davis did was pull back the curtain on the lie that anti-abortion activists bring more passion to the issue than those who favor abortion rights.

The last moments of the session were raucous, and pretty fun to watch, at least from my vantage point.

As about 200,000 people watched the Texas Senate’s live stream, hundreds of protesters in the chamber’s balcony, mostly women, chanted and yelled and generally made it impossible for the lawmakers to hear themselves.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, denounced them as “an unruly mob.”

Well, one man’s “unruly mob” is another woman’s display of democracy in action. I’m sure we’ll be hearing stories out of the conservative blogosphere about how those slovenly women made a mess of the Texas statehouse. It’s what they did to Wisconsin public employee union protesters. If you don’t like their passion, trash ‘em!

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, which has sustained an unending assault by conservatives who are determined to drive it out of business, was in Austin, observing the action up close. The daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, the last Democrat to hold that office, the normally restrained Richards was uncharacteristically ebullient in a statement emailed Wednesday morning.

“What has happened here in Texas over the course of the last week is nothing short of remarkable,” she wrote. “Facing near-impossible odds, thousands of Texans descended on Austin to make their voices heard — telling  their legislators they would not stand for legislation that would hurt thousands of women and essentially end access to safe, legal abortion.”

Whether this is a turning point in the abortion debate remains to be seen.

But one thing is clear: up until Tuesday night, it was easy for people who are zealous about restricting women’s rights to persuade themselves that the grass roots intensity is all on their side.

As we saw last night, nothing could be further from the truth.


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