Republicans in the Texas Senate halted a filibuster conducted by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) on Tuesday night, but Democrats continued to delay a vote on the bill until midnight.
Davis had planned a 13-hour filibuster to prevent a final vote on an extreme anti-abortion bill before the legislature’s special session ended on Tuesday evening.
The situation ended in chaos, which is likely to spark a court battle over whether the legislation was actually passed before midnight.
The legislation, also known as Senate Bill 5, would enact strict regulations that would close all but five abortion clinics in the state and enact a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
With less than 2 hours left to go, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst suspended the filibuster by ruling that Davis had strayed off topic by talking about sonograms.
The Texas Senate’s filibuster rules require lawmakers to keep their speech “germane” to the topic at hand. In addition, senators must stand upright the entire length of their filibuster and cannot receive any form of assistance. If the senator conducting the filibuster violates the rules three times, the Senate can vote to end the filibuster.
The Senate gallery erupted as Republicans announced they were ending the filibuster because Davis had sustained her third warning. Among the boos and jeers, a loud yell of “bullshit” could be heard. The gallery then began repeatedly shouting, “Let her speak!”
State Sen. Kirk Watson (D) objected, but Dewhurst insisted Davis had gone off topic twice and received assistance. Watson made a number of parliamentary inquiries, providing his own mini-filibuster of the bill, then moved to appeal Dewhurst’s ruling.
Other Democrats also attempted to prevent Republicans from voting on the bill by repeatedly making parliamentary inquiries. They noted that Dewhurst had previously said the legislative body would vote on points-of-order, but the lieutenant governor made the final point-of-order against Davis arbitrarily.
With only about one hour until the legislature’s special session ended, state Sen. Robert Duncan (R) announced that after reviewing the rules of the Texas Senate he was overruling Democrats’ objections. But Democrats continued to delay a vote by making parliamentary inquiries, challenging the notion that sonograms were not “germane” to the abortion debate.
“This has been, if not the most scrutinized filibusters, then one of the most scrutinized filibusters in the state,” Watson said. “There has been an effort at every moment to try to raise a point-of-order to stop this filibuster.”
With only 20 minutes left, the Senate finally got around to voting on Watson’s appeal of Dewhurst’s ruling against Davis. The appeal was rejected.
Duncan soon moved to vote on the bill, which resulted in chaos. The Senate gallery again erupted, drowning the proceedings with cheering and shouting. Duncan yelled and banged his gavel, but to no avail. For the next ten minutes, the Texas Senate was dominated by the noise of the gallery.
Despite the chaos, Republicans attempted to vote on the bill around midnight. State Sen. Bob Deuell (R) told the Texas Tribune that the bill was passed by a 17-12 vote. Democrats, however, claimed the vote took place after the legislative session had ended.
The Associated Press reported that, “Reporters and Democrats saw the voting begin after midnight, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said it began just before.”
With reporting by Kay Steiger