Who is Wendy Davis? The Texas senator was largely unknown on the American national political scene before 25 June. That was the day Davis stood up at 11.18am, and only sat down nearly 11 hours later after giving a marathon speech intended to filibuster a bill that would severely restrict a women's ability to have an abortion in Texas, which is the second most populous state in America.
Over the span of that day, Davis, 50, went from being little-known local senator to becoming the face of the pro-choice movement in America.
A filibuster is a time-buying attempt in the Senate. It’s an official procedure that attempts to delay the debate before the passing of a bill in order to delay (or entirely prevent) a vote on a given proposal. In America, the filibuster is known as the “soul of the Senate” because of the important role it’s played in historic debates.
The rules of the filibuster are stringent – the senator speaking isn’t allowed to sit down, lean on something, drink or eat, make any digressions, or take bathroom breaks. Davis’s seat was taken away when she started talking, and the senator – wearing comfortable pink sneakers – stood before the Texas legislature and executed an epic filibuster.
The anti-abortion bill that Davis quite literally made a stand for would have banned abortions after twenty weeks, and shut down almost every abortion clinic in the state because of the conditions it put on the clinics’ equipment, admitting privileges, and so on. The bill would have led, as many pro-choice activists insisted, to women opting for unsafe medical procedures rather than not getting an abortion at all.
Republicans ultimately forced an end to her speech, saying that Davis had gone off-topic twice, and the adjustment of her back brace by a second person counted as a violation. With extremely dubious tactics, they shouted her down. But other Democrats refused to let the fight end. At about 11.45 pm, another senator, Leticia Van de Putte, who felt that she was being ignored by the presiding officer, asked him: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognised over her male colleagues?” The assembled crowds of supporters went crazy, and the deadline for the bill passed.
Wendy Davis, who is now rumoured to possibly run for governor in 2014, was chosen to speak perhaps because of her meteoric rise. The daughter of a single mother, Davis worked at a juice bar at the age of 14 to help her mother and her three siblings. By nineteen she was a divorced single mother who worked two jobs and living in a trailer park. She studied at Harvard University, later joining the city council and then being elected to the Texas senate.
The hashtag #StandWithWendy went viral as supporters across the world rallied to support Davis. Barack Obama’s official twitter account also joined in, tweeting: “Something special is happening in Austin tonight #StandWithWendy”. “Davis reminded everyone that despite the steady dismantling of abortion rights in state legislatures, it’s possible to fight back,” said an article in the New Yorker. “People might yell at you on the floor and for you from the rafters, and you might, if only for the moment, win.”
Davis, after her speech and after successfully delaying the passing of the bill, was finally at a loss for words. When asked how she felt by media, she only had one word: “Overwhelmed."