Wendy Russell Davis (b 16 May 1963)
By Kelsey Wrightson
Wendy Davis is an American lawyer and Democratic senator from Fort Worth, Texas. One of four children raised by a single mother, by 14, she was selling newspaper subscriptions and working part-time. She had the first of two daughters when she was 19 years old, subsequently working her way through Harvard Law School as a single mother.
Davis entered politics through the Fort Worth City Council in 1999, and served for nine years. In 2008 she was elected to the Texas Senate, District 10, narrowly defeating male Republican Kim Brimer. Upon entering a House dominated by Republicans and men, she began ruffling the feathers of conservative colleagues, labeling the Senate environment hostile to women and proposing multiple amendments to many bills. Davis serves as the Vice-Chair on the Senate Select Committee for Open Government, and is a member of the Committees on Economic Development, Transportation, Veteran Affairs and Military Installations.
Davis was re-elected in 2012, the same year that her offices were firebombed, an attack that remains unsolved, but speculation links it to her support of Planned Parenthood (Pieklo). Despite this attack, she has continued to be a vehement supporter of women’s rights. Her stance is most obvious in her successful 25 June 2013 filibuster of Senate Bill 5, a draconian law that attempts to dramatically reduce access to abortion. This was not the first time that Senator Davis has used radical tactics in the Texas State Senate. In June 2011, she filibustered the 82nd Legislative Assembly, preventing a $4 billion cut from public education sponsored by Governor Rick Perry. However the 25 June filibuster gathered more global coverage and heightened awareness of hard-line anti-women politics in the Lone Star State. It also created a new political heroine for many progressive Texans and activists around the United States.
On 25 June Davis stood for 11 hours to stop a bill that would have reduced the number of state abortion providers from 42 to 5. Such restriction was to cap longstanding efforts to curb women’s control over their own fertility, which includes state-directed anti-choice counseling and 24 hour mandatory wait times.
It initially seemed that the Republicans had won when Davis was cut off on procedural technicalities, but Democratic State Senator Leticia Van De Putte from San Antonio, who rushed back from her father’s funeral, took the floor. After she finished speaking, hundreds packing the gallery cheered, further delaying the vote. Just after midnight, the Senate’s own website stated that the bill had become law. This claim had to be rescinded when it was publicly revealed that the Republicans had changed the time stamp in order to declare the bill passed. In fact, Davis, and her pro-choice supporters inside and outside government, had won.
Unfortunately, SB 5 and the dangers of the anti-choice renaissance survive to burden women another day. The last six months have led to 35 measures to restrict abortion procedures being passed in 17 different states, both conservative and the traditionally more socially liberal “swing states.” In Texas, Governor Perry has added SB 5 to another special session. It is unlikely that the Democrats will be able to stall the bill a second time since the vote will likely be taken earlier in the session, making a filibuster near- impossible. Perry has also been noted for his personal attacks on Davis (Holpuch) a strategy that recalls the vitriol that regularly rains down on outspoken women and links the growing battle against pro-choice to misogyny within the public domain. However, Davis’ courage and determination (accessorized by pink sneakers) have won her many supporters.
Dubbed the “LeBron James of filibustering” on Wikipedia (a reference to American Basketball legend), Davis has become a rising star in state politics (Ramshaw). No sooner had the filibuster succeeded that rumours spread that Davis will challenge Republican Perry. Such a contest will inevitably evoke memories of a former Democratic governor, the charismatic Ann Richards (1991-95; 1933-2006) who was celebrated as a progressive and a feminist but was eventually defeated by Republican George W. Bush, later better known as the 43rd president of the U.S.A. (Sheeler).
The filibuster of Wendy Davis in Texas, like global phenomena such as Pussy Riot and the Idle No More movement, positions feminism against reactionary conservative politics. Texas may soon face the prospect of a third woman governor (after Richards and Miriam A. Ferguson [1875-1961]). If Davis is successful, she will have been well-trained in tactics needed to challenge misogyny and the new campaign of “death by legislation” deployed by the anti-choice movement.
Eilperin, Juliet. “Antiabortion measures gain momentum in the states,” Washington Post, April 11, 2013
Eilperin, Juliet. “What does Wendy Davis mean for the larger abortion debate?” Washington Post, June 26, 2013
Holpuch, Amanda. “Texas governor Rick Perry attacks Wendy Davis over teenage pregnancy,” The Guardian, June 27, 2013
Levs, Josh and Michael Martinez. “Wendy Davis: From teen mom to Harvard law to famous filibuster,” CNN Politics, June 27, 2013
Pieklo, Mason. “Abortion Rights Under Fire: Why Wendy Davis Matters,” Rolling Stone, June 26, 2013
Ramshaw, Emily. “A Filibuster Creates an Overnight Celebrity,” New York Times, June 4, 2011
Sheeler, Kristina K. Horn. Women’s public discourse and the gendering of leadership culture: Ann Richards and Christine Todd Whitman negotiate the governorship, Indiana University, 2000.
Wendy Davis Campaign Website, Accessed June 28, 2013