Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) must speak nonstop for 13 hours – without bathroom breaks or leaning on anything – if she wants to halt passage of a major abortion bill that would solidify Texas’ status on a growing list of states passing restrictive abortion measures.
Senator Davis and fellow Texas Democrats are seeking to thwart a bill passed by the Texas House on Monday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require abortion doctors to have visiting rights at nearby hospitals. While supporters say the bill protects women’s health, critics reply that the bill will effectively close 37 of the 42 state abortion clinics.
Davis’s filibuster caps several days of legislative drama that will end Tuesday night at midnight with the expiration of a special legislative session – after which no further laws may be passed.
"We want to do whatever we can for women in this state," state Sen. Kirk Watson, leader of the Senate Democrats, said Monday.
Texas joins several states including Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, Virginia, and Pennsylvania that have passed or proposed restrictions on abortion. Critics say the Texas legislation is particularly notable because it would become the most stringent set of abortion laws to affect the largest number of people in the United States.
In addition to banning abortion after 20 weeks, the bill limits abortions to surgical centers and requires doctors to monitor nonsurgical abortions. Opponents say a requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles is problematic because most hospitals in Texas do not grant privileges to doctors who perform abortions – either for religious reasons or for fear of becoming the target of protests.
"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 the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of the late Ann Richards, a former Texas governor.
“The woman had five months to make that decision. At this point we are looking at a baby that is very far along in its development,” said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R) in the legislation's defense on the House floor. Ms. Laubenberg stopped participating in her chamber's debate after comments about the use of rape kits to prevent abortion drew fire for inaccuracy.
The measure passed the Texas House Monday by a vote of 95 to 34, with the support of four Democrats. House Democrats, mindful that a 24-hour waiting period was needed after passage in their chamber, had delayed their vote until 11 a.m. Monday after a rowdy debate Sunday. Senate Democrats then looked poised to kill the legislation in their chamber with Davis’s filibuster.
"If the majority can't pass the legislation that they believe is important and the people believe is important ... then that's of great concern to me," said state Sen. Dan Patrick (R). Senator Patrick said the Democrats should not have been allowed to put Republicans "in a box."
The bill came about at the request of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who called a special legislative session after the regular session ended May 27. Governor Perry, who is the only one who can legally add issues during the extra session, added abortion to the agenda June 11.
Perry’s request to add abortion came on the same day another state that recently passed stricter abortion measures was sued. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to block enforcement of a new Alabama law that critics say would force the closure of three of the state’s five abortion clinics on July 1.
The Alabama law, passed in April, also requires that all physicians in the state who perform abortions have staff privileges at a local hospital – something clinic officials in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile say they can not comply with.
This is part of national strategy by antiabortion activists to exploit novel ways to shut down abortion clinics at the state level, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told the Monitor.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight state legislatures have banned abortions after 20 weeks, Arizona has done so at 18 weeks, and Arkansas passed a ban after 12 weeks. Federal judges have thrown out the laws in Arizona and Iowa, and judges have blocked similar measures in the other states.
Mississippi and Tennessee also passed laws requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The only abortion clinic still operating in Mississippi is battling to stay open because of new facility requirements and because of the requirement that doctors have privileges at a local hospital. In North Dakota, abortion clinics are suing against similar laws passed this year to remain open.
In 2011, 92 abortion restrictions were enacted in state legislatures, and in 2012, the number was 43, according to Ms. Nash, who says those are the two highest totals of the past decade. In 2000, Guttmacher classified 13 states as being “hostile” to abortion. By 2011, half the states were hostile. To gauge “hostility,” Guttmacher identified 10 classifications of abortion restrictions, and if a state reached four of them, it was called hostile.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.