Democratic lawmakers and pro-choice demonstrators in Texas battled into the early hours of this morning to successfully block a bill that would have shuttered nearly all the state’s abortion clinics. Senate Bill 5 would have banned abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization and imposed harsh regulations forcing all but five Texas clinics to close down. On Tuesday morning, State Senator Wendy Davis donned a pair of pink tennis shoes and rose to her feet to launch a filibuster of the bill that lasted nearly 11 hours before Republican senators interrupted it. As the midnight deadline for the special session drew near, hundreds of protesters in the gallery erupted into cheers that drowned out the proceedings, but Republican lawmakers attempted to claim they had passed the bill anyway. Hours later, Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst conceded the vote had not followed legislative procedures, blaming what he called an “unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics.” Describing the raucous scene at the Capitol, Andrea Grimes, a freelance journalist who writes for RH Reality Check, says: “Once people at that filibuster began telling their stories and sharing them with others, that galvanized the pro-choice base and radicalized some people who hadn’t realized how our rights were under threat.” We also speak with Brandi Grissom of The Texas Tribune, who hosted the live stream of the Senate proceeding that drew more than 100,000 viewers. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards tells Democracy Now!: “With the thousands of people who were mobilized this time around, they will be doubly that way if in fact Gov. [Rick Perry] tries to push [the bill] through again in another special session. And if he does, we’ll be ready.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We go now to Texas, where Democratic lawmakers and pro-choice demonstrators battled into the early hours of this morning to successfully block a bill that would have shuttered nearly all the state’s abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards delivered the news about Senate Bill 5 to protesters in the Capitol Rotunda shortly after 3:00 a.m.
CECILE RICHARDS: The lieutenant governor has agreed that SB5 is dead.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Senate Bill 5 would have banned abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization and imposed harsh regulations forcing all but five Texas clinics to close down. On Tuesday morning, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis donned a pair of pink tennis shoes and rose to her feet to launch a filibuster of the bill that lasted nearly 11 hours before Republican senators interrupted it. Her Democratic colleagues continued to raise objections in a bid to prevent a vote. As the midnight deadline for the special session drew near, hundreds of protesters in the gallery erupted into cheers that drowned out the proceedings.
AMY GOODMAN: While the cheers overwhelmed any attempts to proceed, Republican lawmakers later attempted to claim they had passed Senate Bill 5 anyway. In fact, AP reported that they passed the bill. But around 3:00 a.m., Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst conceded the vote had not followed legislative procedures, blaming what he termed a, quote, “unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics.” Pro-choice advocates are celebrating the victory, but Texas Governor Rick Perry could still call a second special session and tell lawmakers to consider Senate Bill 5 again.
For more, we’re joined by two people who were there at the State Capitol early this morning: Andrea Grimes, freelance reporter who writes for RH Reality Check, and Brandi Grissom in—managing editor of The Texas Tribune, part of their team covering the session. President Obama tweeted their coverage, and they hosted a live stream that more than 100,000 people tuned into from around the country and the world as the midnight hour passed into the early morning hours.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Brandi, just describe the scene. We just heard Cecile Richards. She’s not just the head of Planned Parenthood; she is the daughter of Ann Richards, who was the governor of Texas.
BRANDI GRISSOM: The scene last night was unlike anything I have ever seen at the Texas Capitol, or experienced there, and I’ve been covering the Legislature since 2005. Protesters lined the halls of the Capitol, from the rotunda on the bottom floor all the way to the third floor, where the Senate was. And they really, as the debate came to a crescendo at midnight, created this deafening noise within the Senate chamber, which is such a place of decorum, typically quiet and staid, sort of steady debate. And it just completely erupted. You could hear nothing that was happening on the Senate floor, and the leaders in the Senate were really just at a complete loss for how to move forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Andrea Grimes, can you explain how this happened? Talk—I mean, this didn’t just happen last night. I mean, in the last few days, the momentum has been building. But how did this Bill 5—how was it formed, and what was the activism that led to early today?
ANDREA GRIMES: So, of course, Senate Bill 5 is kind of a monster bill, a creation that is an amalgamation of legislation that failed to pass in the regular session. Last week on Thursday, a House version of that bill came to a committee hearing. Committee hearings tend to be really small, kind of no-frills affairs. They can go on a little bit, but they don’t really tend to be the focus of a lot of activism. But on Thursday, activists rallied and packed the Capitol, an extension of the Capitol building, and created a citizens’ filibuster that went on until nearly 4:00 a.m. And once people who were at that filibuster began telling their stories and sharing them with others, I think that really galvanized the pro-choice base and really kind of radicalized some people that hadn’t realized really what the situation was at the Capitol and how our rights really were under threat directly. And so, I think that really brought, you know, probably a thousand people out to the Capitol on Sunday and the same or more late last night.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you talk about, Andrea Grimes, who Senator Wendy Davis is?
ANDREA GRIMES: Senator Wendy Davis is a representative from Fort Worth, Texas. And she is an up-and-comer, really, in the Democratic Party, but I don’t think anyone really realized the power and professionalism that she had inside her until last night, when we saw her stand and testify for, I think, over 11 hours. She has been a real advocate not only for women’s rights, but for education reform in Texas, smart education reform. And I think we may be looking at a gubernatorial candidate, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, after this filibuster that lasted nearly 11 hours, State Senator Wendy Davis was cut off by a colleague, who accused her of straying from the topic because she brought up another piece of anti-abortion legislation, an ultrasound bill that was enacted in 2011 that requires women to undergo an ultrasound, have the fetus described to them in detail, then wait 24 hours before an abortion. Davis defended herself, saying her comments on the ultrasound bill were relevant to SB5.
SEN. WENDY DAVIS: What I’m talking about is this bill layered upon a previous law that this Legislature enacted and the further hardships that are created for women, and it’s important in order for me to describe the impact of this particular bill. And that’s what I’m clearly talking about, is the impact of this particular bill. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about it in the context of what women in Texas today will face if this provision goes in place. And that’s why, of course, I was referring to the existing visit requirement.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s State Senator Wendy Davis. Understand, she was there on her pink—in her pink sneakers for close to 11 hours. [Andrea] Grimes, so they tried to stop her by saying, when she raised this bill or other legislation or talked about the Planned Parenthood budget, she was out of line, she was off topic, and they could stop the filibuster. But explain exactly then what happened at midnight, how AP reported the vote had passed, but it hadn’t.
ANDREA GRIMES: I think there was a lot of confusion at midnight, because at about 10 'til midnight, Senator Leticia Van de Putte called a parliamentary inquiry and asked what she had to do or say to be heard over her male colleagues. And at that point, the Senate gallery—I think it holds about 500 people—just absolutely erupted in yelling and screaming. So, for about 10 minutes, no one could hear anything. The senators on the floor couldn't hear anything. David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor and the president of the Senate, said he couldn’t hear anything. And the protesters really just would not stop clapping. They were chanting. They chanted, “Let her speak! Let her speak!” And so, as the clock ran down into midnight, it became very hard to tell what precisely was happening. It looked as though the—it looked as though the lieutenant governor had called a roll call to take a vote on a SB5, but in fact that vote ended up being taken after midnight. But again, it was so hard to hear over the din of the outrage of the protesters, and at that point many people being ushered out of the chamber, to know exactly what happened. So, at that point, the AP did preliminarily report that SB5 had passed. Of course, that turned out to be untrue.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Brandi Grissom, can you talk about the role of The Texas Tribune and social media, in general? Twitter, the live stream—how many people tuned in?
BRANDI GRISSOM: I think at one point last night or early this morning, there were somewhere upwards of 100,000 viewers who were watching a live stream of the video directly from the Senate that was streaming on our website. At one point in the evening, President Obama tweeted out a link to that live stream, saying that something special was happening in Texas. Apparently he was even paying attention to this moment that turned out to be, I think, probably quite historic here in the Texas Capitol. In addition, we tweeted all night long, well into the morning. Our reporters started tweeting the action in the Senate as soon as they got convened at 10:00 yesterday morning and continued, you know, well after the debate and this decision, which finally happened about 3:00 this morning, from Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, when he finally came off the dais and said that in fact they had passed—they had passed the bill after midnight, and it wouldn’t be able to become law. So—and I think what we also saw as part of this was really the role of social media in drawing people to the Capitol to become involved. Many of the people who our reporters spoke to said that they heard about what was going on at the Capitol via Twitter or via the live stream.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it certainly was an absolutely amazing scene. And we’re going to end with, again, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, at the Capitol until, oh, 3:00 in the morning, delivering the news to the protesters that Senate Bill 5 was dead. In fact, she was delivering the news in the area where the portrait of her mother, Governor Ann Richards, hung. Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield spoke to her just minutes before our broadcast as she was boarding a plane this morning and asked what comes next, since Governor Rick Perry could potentially choose to call a second special session to revive and pass Senate Bill 5.
CECILE RICHARDS: They control the calendar, and they could certainly do that. You know, it’s an extremely expensive proposition for them to start the bill over again, and I think they saw last night just exactly what kind of response they’re going to get if they do try to push this bill through again. The only reason it was even being—had a possibility of passing is because they suspended the rules of the Senate and—you know, that usually require two-thirds of the senators to agree to bring a bill up. And so, I just will say I think if there’s thousands of people who were mobilized this time around, they will be doubly that way if in fact the governor tries to push it through again in another special session. So we’ll see. And if he does, we’ll be ready.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards. We want to thank Brandi Grissom of The Texas Tribune and Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, a debate on President Obama’s climate change address. Stay with us.