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Filibuster broken, but Texas abortion law fails to pass

Filibuster fails: Wendy Davis spoke for 11 hours in a filibuster but was stopped before the midnight deadline. Still, the Texas abortion law failed to pass when protestors managed to stall a vote.

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Davis' mission was cut short.  Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst halted the filibuster after determining Davis had strayed off the topic when she talked about a sonogram bill passed in 2011 and how the new abortion restrictions only compounded the anti-abortion laws in Texas. Democrats immediately appealed the decision and set off a heated debate over rules. At one point, Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson appeared to be positioning himself to launch a new filibuster on Dewhurst's decision.

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But Davis' effort ultimately helped Democrats earn a rare victory in a Legislature dominated by Republicans for more than a decade.

"It's a bad bill," said Sen. Watson, leader of the Senate Democrats.

The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Also, doctors would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles — a tall order in rural communities.

If signed into law, the measures would have closed almost every abortion clinic in Texas, a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long with 26 million people. A woman living along the Mexico border or in West Texas would have to drive hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion if the law passed. The law's provision that abortions be performed at surgical centers means only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics are currently designated to remain in operation.

Republicans and anti-abortion groups insisted their goal was to improve women's health care, but also acknowledged wanting clinics to close.

"If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas governor Ann Richards.

The showdown came after Davis had slogged her way through about 11 hours of speaking while Senate Republicans — and several House members — watched and listened for any slipup that would allow them to end the filibuster and call a vote.

Democrats chose Davis, of Fort Worth, to lead the effort because of her background; she had her first child as a teenager and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

Rules stipulated she remain standing, not lean on her desk or take any breaks — even for meals or to use the bathroom. But she also was required to stay on topic, and Republicans pointed out a mistake and later protested again when another lawmaker helped her with a back brace.

Lawmakers can vote to end a filibuster after three sustained points of order. As tension mounted over Davis' speech and the dwindling clock, Campbell, a first-term lawmaker from New Braunfels, made the call on the third violation, sparking nearly two hours of debate on how to handle it.

After much back and forth and senators shouting over each other, the Republican majority forced a vote to end the filibuster minutes before midnight, sparking the raucous response from protesters.

Senate security and several Department of Public Safety state troopers tried to quiet the crowd but were simply outnumbered and had no hope of stopping the outburst.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, blamed the confusion surrounding the final vote on the demonstrators and Democratic senators who urged them on.

"Had that not happened, everyone would have known," what was happening, Patrick said.

Standing next to him was Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a Democrat.

"This is democracy," Hinojosa said. "They have a right to speak."

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Follow Jim Vertuno on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JimVertuno .

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cltomlinson

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