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WATCH: Democratic legislator’s all-day filibuster to derail Texas abortion vote

To block a vote that would implement stringent abortion restrictions, State Senator Wendy Davis began a one-woman filibuster. She must stay on topic, not lean on anything for support, and cannot take food or bathroom breaks.
/ Source: Martin Bashir

To block a vote that would implement stringent abortion restrictions, State Senator Wendy Davis began a one-woman filibuster. She must stay on topic, not lean on anything for support, and cannot take food or bathroom breaks.

(Live stream from The Texas Tribune)

Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis committed herself to an all-day filibuster Tuesday in an extraordinary one-woman effort to block the Texas Senate from passing one of the country’s most stringent abortion policies.

Davis began her filibuster just past 11 a.m. local time, reading aloud testimonies from women and doctors who would be affected by the legislation. By midnight, tens of thousands were riveted by the senator’s passionate effort to stop Republicans from passing Senate Bill 5.

In order for the filibuster to succeed, Davis was to speak until midnight—the deadline for the end of a 30-day special session, which was called by Gov. Rick Perry to address various bills, including funding for major transportation projects.

“I’m rising on the floor today to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored,” Davis said at the start of the day.

By late evening, #StandWithWendy was trending worldwide on Twitter. President Obama tweeted:

Something special is happening in Austin tonight: http://t.co/RpbnCbO6zw#StandWithWendy— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 26, 2013

The Texas Tribune livestream of Davis’ filibuster topped 100,000 viewers online as the midnight deadline neared.

Davis wore comfortable running shoes with her suit. If her physical energy was flagging by late  evening, her verbal skills were only sharper. “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business or go to medical school,” she said.

The local CBS affiliate explained the constraints:

Davis must speak continuously—and stay on topic—the entire time. She is not allowed to lean against something for support. And she will not be able to stop or take a break, not even for meals or the restroom, during the entire 13-hour ordeal. But, if she can be successful in running down the clock, it is the only way for Democrats to block the vote.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, holds up two fingers to cast a no vote to bring an abortion bill to the floor early for debate, Monday, June 24, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Texas State House had voted Monday, 97-33, to pass a proposal that would ban abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy, and would close 37 of the 42 Texas clinics that perform abortions. The bill also requires doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and would require clinics to upgrade their facility classifications to ambulatory surgical centers. The bill, introduced by Republican State Congresswoman Jodie Laubenberg, was likely to be signed by Gov. Perry if it passed the House and Senate.

“It’s problematic that [the bill is] under the guise of being protective of women’s health when it will do the opposite,” Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations at the American Association of University Women, told MSNBC on Monday.

During Tuesday’s filibuster, Davis questioned the motivation behind the legislation. ”What purpose does this bill serve?” she asked. “And could it be, might it just be a desire to limit women’s access to safe, healthy, legal, constitutionally-protected abortions in the state of Texas?”

Republican Sen. Bob Deull, who helped write the bill, responded to Davis, saying, “The intent of this bill by the people that helped write it, and I’m one of them, is to increase safety.” He questioned whether Davis felt the filibuster and “the traditions of the Texas Senate” were more important than women’s safety.

At 5:30 p.m. local time, Davis had been interrupted by State Sen. Robert Nichols, who argued Davis had gone off-topic when discussing the budget. Davis was allowed to resume on a different topic, but was stopped again a minute later by Nichols while she spoke about alternatives to abortion. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ruled that as long as Davis was still speaking about abortion, her filibuster could continue.

State Senator Davis’ one-woman filibuster Tuesday came to a stop—at least temporarily—about two hours before the midnight deadline. Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sustained a third point of order over the germaneness of discussing the impact of the 2011 abortion sonogram law in Texas.

Upon Dewhurst’s ruling to end the filibuster, protesters in the gallery erupted with shouts and chants of, “Let her speak!”

Davis, who was elected to the state Senate in 2008, was one of the legislators targeted by Texas Republicans in 2011 through redistricting—an effort that failed, thanks to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Yes, that’s the section that was undercut Tuesday morning by the Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, Davis spoke with MSNBC about the Republican-led redistricting effort that could have cost her her seat in the state Senate. Davis represents a largely minority district in Texas. She’s a single mom and was herself raised by a single mom.

“I have a story that’s very similar to so many people that I see struggling in the district that I represent,” Davis said.

Read our interview with State Sen. Davis about the Voting Rights Act and her election.