US abortion bill speech a sensation

2013-06-27 13:04
Senator Wendy Davis stands on a near empty senate floor as she filibusters in an effort to kill an abortion bill in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay, AP)

Senator Wendy Davis stands on a near empty senate floor as she filibusters in an effort to kill an abortion bill in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay, AP)

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Austin — The Texas state senator who stood and spoke for hours against some of the country's toughest proposed abortion restrictions quickly became a political superstar in pink running shoes. But the governor made sure on Wednesday that the fight isn't over.

Lawmaker Wendy Davis needed last-minute help from shrieking supporters to run out the clock on the special session of the state Legislature and kill the bill, but her old-fashioned filibuster speech earned her widespread praise — including a salute from President Barack Obama.

But Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday called for the Texas Legislature to meet in a second special session on 1 July to pass the abortion restrictions. The Republican governor can call as many 30-day extra sessions as he likes.

Davis, aged 50, was on her feet for more than 12 hours on Tuesday — actively speaking most of that time while obeying rules against not sitting, leaning or taking breaks for meals or the restroom — in a marathon speech seeking to block a bill that would close nearly every abortion clinic in the nation's second-largest state.

As a midnight deadline loomed and the rare Democrat in a heavily Republican state continued to talk, political junkies from the US and elsewhere tuned in via internet, and Davis' followers on Twitter ballooned from around 1 200 to more than 79 000.

Suddenly, photos of the running shoes were everywhere, and #StandWithWendy was trending.

Bill's implications

Obama's official Twitter account posted: "Something special is happening in Austin tonight."

Davis' speech ultimately lasted about 11 hours before Republicans complained she had strayed off topic and cut her off. But that action prompted a lengthy debate and deafening protests from hundreds of abortion rights activists in the gallery that spilled past the midnight deadline.

"Thanks to the powerful voices of thousands of Texans, #SB5 is dead," Davis tweeted Wednesday morning. "An incredible victory for Texas women and those who love them."

The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy — a move other conservative-leaning states are making as they try to challenge the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

The bill also would close almost every abortion clinic in Texas, a vast state of 26 million people. A woman living along the Mexico border or in West Texas would have to drive hundreds of kilometres to obtain an abortion if the law passes. In addition, the bill's provision that abortions be performed at surgical centres means only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics are currently designated to remain in operation.

An avid runner and cyclist, Davis was in good shape for the physical challenge of standing and talking for nearly half a day.

Because the rules didn't allow her to sit down, her chair was removed. Davis, who at one point fought tears while reading testimony from women opposed to the bill, shifted her weight from hip to hip and paced around her desk to stay sharp as the hours ticked by.

Later, a colleague helped her with a back brace — prompting a complaint from a Republican lawmaker.

"My back hurts," Davis said when it was over. "I don't have a lot of words left."
 
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