By Elizabeth Hong
On June 26, 2013, Texas state senator Wendy Davis donned her pink running shoes, strapped on a back brace, and stood indefatigably in the senate chamber of the Texas legislature as she launched a filibuster. The proposed bill that she opposed proposed banning abortions at 20 weeks or more, and would have closed 37 of Texas’s 42 abortion clinics, restricting access to abortions for many women in rural areas. With overwhelming support from both chambers of the Texas state legislature, the bill was almost guaranteed to pass. Nevertheless, Davis determinedly began a passionate speech that would require her to obey rules such as “no digressions, no food or water, no leaning on a desk, no bathroom breaks” and to speak for 13 hours. Her filibuster came to an end after it was ruled that she had violated the senate’s filibuster procedural rules for having her back brace adjusted and speaking off topic. After nearly 11 hours, the bill failed to pass before the 12 a.m. deadline and Davis became a national figure.
For Davis, her strong opposition to the bill was driven by her conviction that women across Texas would be significantly harmed if they lacked access to the vital reproductive care. Her beliefs have been shaped by her own personal experiences in having to make that difficult decision that many women face. In 1996, Davis chose to have an abortion after “doctors said her baby girl would be blind, deaf and in a permanent vegetative state if she survived to term.” These are circumstances that no mother would ever wish to face, but ultimately Davis believes that women are given that choice to decide for themselves with their families. With already 31 percent of women in Texas uninsured, the bill, SB 5, would have effectively taken away that right to choice for hundreds of thousands of women.
Almost overnight, her momentous filibuster propelled Davis into the spotlight as a courageous voice for women in something that “was bigger than the bill itself”; however, her challenge was neither easy to make nor without consequences. Nearly 46% of Texas voters believe that abortion should never be permitted, or should only be permissible in extreme cases. Davis, who represented a minority district of Texas, faced severe threats when her offices were firebombed in what many believed was an attack that stemmed from her support of Planned Parenthood. After her surge in prominence due to her filibuster, Davis launched her campaign to become governor of Texas. Maintaining her views on abortion and a woman’s right to choice, Davis would lose by a resounding 20 points due to her association with the abortion debate in a red state that remains starkly divided over the subject. It’s a fight over an issue that she’s gained national recognition for, but it’s also one that’s cost her political career. Texas just isn’t ready yet.