As dawn breaks early over Ireland I am still up, watching the end of a staggering day in the Texas State Legislature in the U.S.A. It is the last day of business for the house and the schedule was to turn a bill into law and the bill is about the regulation of abortion services in the state of Texas.
The business of the house has not gone to schedule due to one woman, Senator Wendy Davis.
She decided to filibuster the bill, that is to not yield the floor to other speaker and came prepared to stay on her feet, not break to eat or drink or use the bathroom for 13 hours, in order to run out the clock. If a vote is not called on the bill and it fails to process then it has to wait two years to be proposed again.
As I write there is 30 minutes left to go and Senator Davis has been on her feet for 12 and a half hours. Who is Senator Wendy Davis? She was raised in a single parent family, became a single parent herself at the age of 19, but she went on to college, then to Texas Christian University and then to get her law degree from Harvard.
The bill she is trying to prevent from passing will restrict abortion to 20 weeks and tie up the clinics and hospitals which can carry out procedures in regulations to limit them and reduce women’s access. The bill known as SenateBill5 would put in many hoops that drs and women must comply with to ensure the abortion is legally carried out in a sanctioned venue and with a dr who has been deemed fit to do so and with the right hospital privileges. This bills chips away at the access to abortion and abortion services and will close the majority of clinics in the State of Texas forcing women to travel if they can.
Here in Ireland we will soon see the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill come up in our own houses of Parliament, which also lists where procedures can be carried out and which drs get to decide if a woman who is suicidal is legally permitted to have an abortion. What concerns me that we may see further legislation later on which will look to place even more restriction on what is proposed in the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.
The world is watching as the clock is being run out, there are many supporters of Senator Davis, they are online, tweeting, commenting on social networks, they are in the Texas State Legislature showing their support by wearing orange t shirts. Senator Davis’ filibuster was halted by the President of the house and now there are other senators questioning that ruling and doing all that they can to try and run out the little remaining time.
10 minutes left to go at 5:30 am and the sound of supporters cheering and yelling in support has disrupted the proceedings in the chamber which can not continue. It is- quite literally – the Voices of the People- raised to be heard in the chamber, disrupting the order of business and running done the last minutes remaining. And as the clock moves to only 5 minutes remaining the chant of WENDY, WENDY, WENDY is all that can be heard.
As the clock runs out, the cheering crowds get even louder, midnight of the 25th of June in the Texas State legislature sounds like new years eve. A shout of ‘We are the People’ is heard and chants of Shame. It is a shame that it takes a filibuster and a woman standing for 13 hours to protect the rights of women to the health care they need and it only stalls the bill.
But it has been empowering to watch with the hundreds of thousands of people on the live stream and the many thousands more on twitter #standwithwendy I hope that the Irish people who believe women need more abortion rights the the measly one which will be enacted under the in our houses of parliament by the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill; will come out in large vocal numbers as the people of Texas have done and maybe even wearing orange and chanting Shame, so that our elected representatives will hear us.
It is official, the bill was filibustered, despite efforts to bring a vote on it. Due to the efforts of Senator Davis, the senators who supported her in the chamber and those those who stood outside the chamber making their presence known the vote on the bill was called too late.
Rosa Parks sat down, Wendy Davis stood up; that sort of fortitude and stamina is the type we will need in Ireland to ensure we have the abortion rights and services we need to safe guard women’s lives and health.
Jan Ní Shuílleabháin is a pro-choice activist and a member of the Abortion Rights Campaign