Splitting Hairs on Abortion Restrictions
Wed February 12, 2014 12:04 pm

Wendy Davis, as we all know, came to national recognition as the result of a 13-hour-filibuster against a sweeping new abortion bill. In other words, she supports reproductive rights. Since June, however, she's infuriated the pro-life right several times, over and above the general degree of fury they feel towards her, by distancing herself from that stance, or trying to do so. When she mentioned her filibuster during her announcement that she would run for governor this year, she meant the 2011 mini-filibuster, which was about education funding. In November, she said that she herself is "pro-life," because she cares about the lives of children and women.

And yesterday she told the Dallas Morning News's editorial board that she's generally opposed to abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, and might support a ban on them, although a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation was a key part of the bill she filibustered:

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” Davis said.

But the Democrat said the state’s new abortion law didn’t give priority to women in those circumstances. The law allows for exceptions for fetal abnormalities and a threat to the woman’s life, but Davis said those didn’t go far enough.

“My concern, even in the way the 20-week ban was written in this particular bill, was that it didn’t give enough deference between a woman and her doctor making this difficult decision, and instead tried to legislatively define what it was,” Davis said.

Davis's critics see this as transparent political posturing. I would argue that although there are plenty of examples of political posturing from Davis (as from most politicians), these comments are consistent enough. Three reasons that Davis deserves the benefit of the doubt, after the jump. 

1) Based on the newspaper's account, Davis's point was that although she's generally opposed to late-term abortions (as most Texans are), such abortions are very rare, and usually pursued only in extreme circumstances; that being the case, although Texas's new law does allow for a few exceptionsin the event of fetal abnormalities, or if the mother's health is at riskshe thinks the law doesn't leave enough latitude for women facing such extreme circumstances to make their own decisions in conjunction with their doctors. Reading the DMN story, it's a little hard to say what she means by "deference." However, if you read the law, this is a fair line of argument. The law's fetal abnormality exception, for example, only applies to those with a "severe, irreversible brain impairment"; that seems subjective.

2) In light of recent context, Davis is right to raise an alarm about whether the state of Texas can show adequate respect for the basic rights of women, much less their health. This is a state where hospital executives recently kept a dead woman on life support for about two months on behalf of an unborn fetus, over the objections of her husband and her parents, both of whom were advocating for her own interests.

3) Abortion is a complicated issue, and one about which most Texans have complicated feelings. There has never been any real reason to think that Davis is enthusiastic about abortions, despite the fact that she was against a law that would restrict access to the procedure. The fact that she is so often accused of being a "cheerleader" for the procedure, in fact, proves nothing so much as the sanctimony, dishonesty, and occasional misogyny of her critics. (If you want some supporting circumstantial evidence, check the comments to this post; I am sure that someone will have called me an abortion advocate down there, despite never actually having asked for my opinion on the topic.) Think of Davis as a regular pro-choice person, rather than the abortion advocate her critics have tried to paint her as. From that perspective, the comments offered yesterday are an elaboration of her previously expressed opinions, rather than an attempt to distance herself from them. 

( AP Photo / Nick Wass )

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