Meet the Woman Behind the Texas Abortion Filibuster

The story of state senator Wendy Davis' breakout performance on the national stage

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Bob Daemmrich / Corbis

State senator Wendy Davis, in Austin on June 26, 2013, begins a filibuster of a bill that would tighten regulations on Texas' abortion providers

With just a few hours left before the end of its legislative session Tuesday, the Texas senate was poised to pass one of the most sweeping abortion-restriction bills in the country, banning the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and potentially forcing the closure of a majority of the state’s abortion clinics. Then a determined woman in pink sneakers brought it all to a halt.

State senator Wendy Davis, a rising Democratic star in Lone Star politics, filibustered the bill into the night and, for the time being, prevented its passage. The legislation is still likely to become law if Republican Governor Rick Perry calls a special session, but through her protest, Davis became a hero for abortion-rights supporters nationwide, drawing 400,000 mentions on Twitter under the hashtag #standwithwendy, according to the social-media company.
Unfazed by the Texas legislature’s strict rules that required her to speak continuously on topic and not sit down, Davis filibustered for about 10 hours. She has a long history of perseverance.

Davis, now 50, started working at 14, and by the age of 19, she was divorced and raising a child. She enrolled in community college and eventually transferred to Texas Christian University. After graduating first in her class, she left the state to attend Harvard Law School. With a law degree in hand, Davis became a practicing attorney in Fort Worth and joined the Fort Worth city council, serving for nine years.

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In her 2008 state-senate race, Davis upset a two-term incumbent. Once in office, she made a name for herself as a Democratic firebrand in a deeply Republican state. In 2011 she filibustered a budget bill that cut education funding, forcing Perry to hold a special session. She also authored legislation to expedite rape investigations and has been an outspoken advocate of gay rights.

Scrutiny accompanied Davis’ rise in Texas politics. During her 2012 campaign, opponents accused her of using her position in the Senate to lock down contracts for her law firm, Newby Davis. And her office was the target of an attack last year when a 40-year-old homeless man threw a Molotov cocktail at the front door. (No one was injured.)

But Tuesday’s filibuster has brought Davis to a whole new level. “The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding tastes pretty good right now,” she told reporters afterward, adding that she’s “pleased to know the spotlight is shining on Texas.”

The spotlight is on Davis too. National attention has led to speculation that she might run for a statewide office like governor, should Perry not seek re-election. It would be a daunting task, according to Texas political observers. But Wendy Davis is no stranger to uphill battles.