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Texas Senator Filibusters For 11 Hours Against Abortion Bill


This was the scene last night in the Texas Capitol building.


MONTAGNE: Crowds who came out to support a nearly 11-hour filibuster by Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis erupted in screams in an attempt to stop a vote on a bill that would have forced all but a handful of abortion clinics in Texas to close. That's because, among other things, the bill would require clinics to be upgraded to ambulatory surgical centers, something that the clinics say they can't afford.

For more on the midnight drama, we turn to Ben Philpott. He's a political reporter with member station KUT. And good morning, after what must have been a long night for you.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: A very long night, but very exciting, as well.

MONTAGNE: You were there at the Capitol for part of this. Tell us the story of Wendy Davis' filibuster.

PHILPOTT: Well, you know, it all starts when she comes out that morning with her pink tennis shoes on. For a filibuster, you are not allowed to lean on anything. You cannot use anything to prop yourself up. You have to stand the entire time, obviously, and you cannot stop talking about the bill at hand, which is something that got her into trouble later in the evening. And so it was a grueling 11 hours.

MONTAGNE: And it didn't end until just before midnight, and I've seen pictures of people there at the Capitol on that rotunda, sort of circling up three floors to see this filibuster. But also, nationwide, this became a social media sensation.

PHILPOTT: Yeah, it really steamrolled throughout the day. You got more and more people using the hashtag #StandwithWendy, including national political figures, different celebrities. So it just kept building on itself.

MONTAGNE: Ben, let's get back to the bill itself. What would this law have done?

PHILPOTT: Well, it would have made the clinics upgrade to ambulatory surgical centers, as you mentioned earlier. Also, it would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and it would have also required any doctor at a clinic to get admitting rights at a local hospital, a hospital about 30 miles from the clinic, which, you know, in rural Texas, is a big deal. You don't have a hospital within 30 miles of some of these clinics, let alone one that would then be willing to give you admitting privileges.

MONTAGNE: So something like three dozen clinics in Texas say they will have to shut down, leaving, basically, clinics only in the big cities. But on the other hand, this is a very popular bill, as well, right? And the legislature there in Texas is dominated by Republicans, and they want this - something like this bill to become law there.

PHILPOTT: That's right. And the whole point of this bill, they argue, is about women's safety. They say, well, look, if an ambulatory surgical center is a safer place for any kind of surgery or procedure, then isn't that the kind of place that you would want a woman to have this procedure where things can go wrong from time to time? And this would be the best place to make sure that the abortion is performed safely.

MONTAGNE: The bill did not pass, so what is next?

PHILPOTT: At the moment, there is no next. Governor Rick Perry would have to call another special session for this bill to be brought up again, although early this morning, as the session was ending and the lieutenant governor was announcing that the bill did not pass, he did end the session by saying, thanks. It's been fun, and we'll see you again soon.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, thank you very much for joining us.

PHILPOTT: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Ben Philpott is the political reporter at member station KUT in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT 90.5 FM. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and twice by the Houston Press Club as Radio Journalist of the Year. Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.
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