Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What Happened in Texas...

Abortion is one of those tricky issues. Personally I'm not sure I'd ever be able to have one. I'm never going to force one on another woman. All the same, I'd like every woman in this country to have the right to choose whether or not abortion is the right option for her. Yes, I believe that the father deserves to have some say over what happens to his child during pregnancy. I won't disagree with the fact that women who choose abortion as a means of birth control are abusing the service. I'll even tentatively agree that refusing abortions after a certain gestational week is ok (there are always exceptions and extreme circumstances, but that should be ruled on a case by case basis.) The Senators from Texas brought abortion back into the spotlight last night during a special session. I'm still not really sure what the results of last night's vote were. The evening ended in chaos, and I've read so many conflicting reports that my head is spinning. The fact that I stayed up until 2am trying to figure out what was happening is probably not helping all that much.

Here's the basic background to what went down in Texas yesterday:

Senate Bill 5 is an omnibus measure that includes many abortion restrictions that were voted down in Texas' regular session. Governor Rick Perry (R) allowed a special session that forced a last-minute vote on this and well as several other pieces of anti-abortion legislation. SB 5 aimed to ban abortions after 20 weeks and would require facilities offering abortions to upgrade to be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. If passed, SB 5 would force all but a handful of abortion clinics to close their doors.

Senator Wendy Davis (D) took a stand, literally. The 50 year old Senator from Fort Worth took the floor in an attempt to complete a 13 hour filibuster. In a country that doesn't allow cruel and unusual punishment, the rules for those who wish to filibuster are pretty harsh.

Sen. Davis was required to stand the entire duration of her filibuster. No chairs, no leaning on anything, no breaks to rest her legs, feet or back.

She was not allowed to break for food, drink, or to use the restroom.

Her colleagues were not allowed to assist her in any way, with one very important exception: They could interrupt periodically with questions, giving Sen. Davis a chance to rest her voice and gather her thoughts.

Lastly, and most importantly, Sen. Davis had to remain on topic. No random tangents, no reading The Riverside Shakespeare. Everything she spoke about had to be relevant to SB 5.

A filibuster works on a 3 strikes you're out principal. The speaker is given 2 warnings on violations and allowed to continue. On the 3rd violation, the other members of the Senate are allowed to take the floor and move to vote.

Sen. Davis' violations were 
1- Sen. Davis' speech went off topic. 
2- Assistance. Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) helped Sen. Davis adjust her back brace. I don't like this one, but I still agree that Sens. Davis and Ellis were in clear violation of the rules. (See, I can be reasonable even if I'm a woman!)
3- Sen. Davis once again went off topic. This time I'm going to protest until I'm blue in the face. 

The 3rd violation, the one that effectively ended Sen. Davis' filibuster, was because she began discussing laws regarding sonograms. Here's my problem: SB 5 will make abortions illegal once the mother has passed the 20th week of gestation. Not many people know the exact date of conception, although I'll grant you that there are exceptions. Doctors use sonogram results to help estimate date of conception and due date. Current rules and regulations regarding sonograms are therefor, at least in my understanding, extremely relevant to the proposed abortion regulations set forth in SB 5. I might be wrong, though.

After the 3rd violation, the night could have ended. The Senators supporting SB 5 kept trying to move to vote, but Sen. Davis' colleagues stalled like pros. They brought up parliamentary inquiry after inquiry. For once that quirk that politicians have, the one that lets them talk about anything forever, seemed to be a good thing. Arguments about procedural regulations, parliamentary inquiries and general discussion brought the session to within 10 minutes or so of midnight. If the vote did not occur before midnight, SB 5 could not be passed. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte's final question was simple, honest, and brought on what is being referred to as "the people's filibuster." "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?" she asked.

The hall erupted in cheers, chants and song. The people refused to be silenced, although Lt. Gov. Dewhurst only seemed to be making the minimal effort to call order. I wasn't there, and the sound kept cutting out on the news feed that I was watching, so maybe he really did try. Walking away from the microphone was highly ineffective, though.