Moments of Principle

Published: July 1, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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By now, most everyone has heard of the 11-hour filibuster waged on the floor of the Texas state senate in Austin by Senator Wendy Davis to prevent passage of a bill that would effectively close most of the medical facilities available for abortion in the state.

What most may not know is that this wasn’t Davis’ first time at the rodeo. Anyone who thinks lightening can’t strike twice needs to look up the name Wendy Davis.

“Texas Democrats never had much hope in this Legislature,” The New York Times wrote two years ago (June 4, 2011) where Republicans have a huge majority and an unshakeable drive to slash spending without raising taxes or dipping into the state’s giant savings account.

“Don’t tell that to State Senator Wendy Davis. The Democrat of Fort Worth effectively torpedoed the 82nd legislative session by refusing to settle for a school finance plan that would leave public schools $4 billion short.”

“I wouldn’t have done it,” Davis said, “if I didn’t think we had a chance to change the school funding plan.” Davis said she had become dissatisfied with Senate colleagues who not only lacked a majority, but lacked the political will to fight the deep budget cuts, like “there wasn’t any fire in our bellies.”

Flash forward to June 25, 2013.

In an attempted end-run around Roe v. Wade, Republican Governor Rick Perry and Republican Senators tried to pass a bill aimed at banning “abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy,” The Times reported (June 25), “[and] require abortion clinics to meet the same standards that hospital-style surgical centers do, and mandate that a doctor who performs abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“Supporters of the bill, including the governor and other top Republicans, said the measures would protect women’s health and hold clinics to safety standards, but women’s rights advocates said the legislation amounted to an unconstitutional, politically motivated attempt to shut legal abortion clinics. The bill’s opponents said it would most likely cause all but 5 of the 42 abortion clinics in the state to close, because the renovations and equipment upgrades necessary to meet surgical-center standards would be too costly.”

Taking the floor at 11:18 a.m., in what had quickly become the most popular running shoes on the planet, Davis began talking and talking and talking into late Tuesday. Her purpose was to run out the clock before lawmakers could vote on the bill.

Republican Senators made several attempts to challenge Davis on rules violations, but as the clock ticked down to midnight, the voting deadline, the gallery had swelled to capacity with supporters cheering her on and, at one point, drowning out everything else on the floor, preventing a vote from taking place.

Davis ended the night with a definite win. However, as Rice University Political Science Professor Mark Jones pointed out, “Democrats are likely to win the battle but lose the war.”

The Times reported that “The five clinics that would remain open if the bill passed are the only ones in Texas that meet the surgical-center requirements, and all are in large cities; Austin, San Antonio and Dallas each have one, and Houston has two. Advocates for abortion rights said that the burden on those five clinics to provide women’s health services would be extreme, and that women in rural areas and small towns far from those cities would be underserved.”

So, why did Davis do it? “We have a State Capitol that is made up of people,” Davis said, “for the most part, who are elected by Anglo communities, suburban and rural, and they are the majority voice in the Capitol, although they aren’t reflective of the majority of the state of Texas.”

What’s particularly unsettling is the fact that rather than take on Roe v. Wade (originally a Dallas case) head on, Governor Perry and his Republican colleagues have trumped up a bill, whose purpose they say, is to protect the health and welfare of women. The only problem with that statement is the simple fact that forcing the closing of all but five abortion clinics in Texas,denies women necessary health care.

“The United States Supreme Court has ruled,” The Times writes, “that women have a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, often around 24 weeks into pregnancy. The enforcement of another early limit — a ban at 12 weeks that Arkansas enacted in March — was temporarily blocked last month by a federal judge, who said it was likely to be found unconstitutional.”

In referencing her 11th hour filibuster, Governor Perry called Senator Davis a “show horse.” From my perspective, that ranks considerably higher on the political courage food-chain, Governor, than a jack… than a mule.



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