Wendy Davis Reflects On Filibuster And The Coming Special Session Abortion Fight

Wendy Davis Reflects On Filibuster And The Coming Special Session Abortion Fight

After Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster helped defeat a controversial anti-abortion bill aimed at severely cutting access to abortion services across Texas, even her Republican colleagues had to express their admiration.

"Quite a few very respectfully told me that they thought I did an incredible job, that they admired what it takes to do something like that," Davis told The Huffington Post in an interview Sunday. "They understand the stress and the pressure that I was under, not only because of what the physical demands of that are, but also the mental demands of it ... I appreciated the comments afterward."

Davis' emotional testimony appeared to gradually galvanize supporters in the state and across the country, hour by hour. Her supporters filled the state Capitol's gallery, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in hallways and lining up down the steps outside.

Roughly 157,000 flocked to the Texas Tribune's stream of the proceedings on YouTube to watch as chants of "Wendy!" from the gallery helped successfully prevent a vote by the midnight deadline. At its peak, the Tribune's livestream hit some 183,000 viewers. Davis says the waves of clapping and chants surprised even her. Was it planned? "My goodness, no," she says. "You can't plan something like this."

"Ultimately at the end when the microphones of Democratic senators were shut off as we were trying to hold the floor, which we rightfully should have been able to do, I think it was just this organic response," she says. "It wasn't anything but democracy."

Gov. Rick Perry (R) has called for a second special session to pass the abortion bill. The session begins July 1 at 2 p.m. and could last a month. Although the bill is expected to pass in the Republican-dominated legislature, Davis says it is not a done deal -- after all, now all of Texas and the nation is paying attention. She says even Republicans may hesitate at voting for the bill, which could potentially shutter all but a handful of abortion clinics in the state and would bar women from having abortions after 20 weeks into their pregnancy.

"I think that there are certainly some members across the aisle that are giving this a second thought," Davis says. "And I wouldn't attribute that necessarily to anything I said or did. But the reaction that they're seeing -- the very organic reaction that they're seeing from across the state of Texas, I think it's giving some people pause, as it should."

This sentiment has not been reflective in the public comments from Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, also a Republican. Perry suggested Davis should be grateful her mother did not abort her and that Davis, who raised two daughters as a single mother, should learn "from her own example." Dewhurst called Tuesday's cheering throng an "unruly mob."

Davis scoffs at the comparison. At one point, police arrested a 72-year-old woman, and threatened to arrest demonstrators who were using sign language.

The personal attacks by Perry, Davis says, are "emblematic of this broader issue."

"It demonstrated that they just don't understand how very personal these issues are," she explains. "My story, my personal story, is my story. I have the ability to make choices and I had opportunities that I was able to take advantage of in my life. Other women of course should be able to define their own destinies and this idea that the heavy hand of government should somehow come in and tell her how to do that is deeply resented in [a] state like Texas. It's deeply resented everywhere, but if you know anything about Texas, we hold very strongly to our traditions and our values where personal liberties are concerned."

The controversial abortion bill is just the latest step under the Perry administration to severely limit health care options for women in the past few years. The Texas Tribune reports that the 2011 legislative session produced a law that required a woman seeking to end her pregnancy to have a sonogram and hear a description of the fetus before doing so. The legislature also slashed state money for family planning, which led to 117 clinics losing funds and 56 closing.

The Texas Tribune noted that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin estimate that "144,000 fewer women received health services and 30,000 fewer unintended pregnancies were averted in 2012 than in 2010. The state’s savings from the family planning program dropped by an estimated $163 million."

Legislators in this past session worked to reverse the funding cuts, but the damage from previous cuts could still limit capacity. This is still the same legislative body that includes a female state representative who recently mused that rape kits could cause abortions. "In the emergency room, they have what's called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out," state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) said.

Davis says she understands the threat to women across the state. "I had a child so young, I was a teenager," she says. "I understood that in order to take the next step forward in my life and to do it in a positive way that would lift up me and my daughter that I needed to take control of my family decision making. I needed family planning services. I needed to make sure that I didn't add to the incredible responsibility I already had so that I could take advantage of working, going to school and trying to go forward. I had this deeply personal understanding of why making sure that women have those opportunities was important."

But she adds when she was a teenager, there wasn't a war on Planned Parenthood. "Back then the Texas I was living in was not a Texas where this issue had become a political football," Davis says. "I never ever had to worry that I couldn't go to the Planned Parenthood clinic here in Fort Worth and access my family planning services. I did that for years. They were my only source of healthcare. No one was ever standing at the bully pulpit in the political arena trying to stop that from happening."

On Monday at noon at the south steps of the Capitol, a coalition of theTexas Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, and clinic provider Whole Woman's Health, among others, have planned a rally. So far, more than 5,000 have pledged to attend via Facebook. The organizers joke that plans were already being generated before they started officially getting involved.

"It keeps blowing our expectations," says Tanene Allison, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. "Even if we didn't want to organize something, people want to be at the Capitol on Monday. They want to have a presence when the special session starts."

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, says she hopes to be able to build -- and organize -- off this momentum. "This is an amazing opportunity to engage folks and hopefully have lifelong voters come out of this," she says. "We've just been overwhelmed at my office with the support that we've been getting."

Davis anticipates a presence at the Capitol not just Monday but throughout the session. She adds that she and her fellow Democrats are strategizing on how to move forward once the session begins. They haven't talked about doing another filibuster. "It's too soon to say," whether another will be attempted, she adds.

But there will be one crucial difference between this session and the last. "I know that it's not a lonely fight that we are going to be fighting," Davis says. "We are going to be joined by a chorus of voices from all over the state and even all over the country."

But this also means that Perry and other opponents will be expecting the fight, and won't be ambushed by pro-choice demonstrators. Davis says that if the abortion bill passes, she would be shocked if there wasn't an immediate court fight.

All Davis knows for certain is that she will be attending Monday's rally. But the woman now internationally known for talking for 11-straight hours isn't sure she'll be speaking at this event. "That's a very good question," she says with a bit of a laugh. "If I'm invited to speak, I will be honored to do so."

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