The XX Factor

Wendy Davis, Hero to the Pro-Choice Movement, Comes Out in Support of a 20-Week Abortion Ban

How will Team Wendy feel about her remarks to the Dallas Morning News?

Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis made her name and kick-started her campaign for governor by filibustering an anti-abortion omnibus bill, standing and talking for 11 hours straight in support of abortion rights. So it comes as a surprise—and frankly, a betrayal—to learn that Davis told the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that she could support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, if it gave “enough deference between a woman and her doctor” to make the decision to abort after that point for medical reasons. The current 20-week ban in Texas, which is part of the bill that Davis opposed but finally passed toward the end of the summer, has very narrow restrictions, only allowing post-20-week abortions in the case of fetal abnormality with “severe, irreversible brain impairment” and threats to a woman’s life. The exception Davis seems to be advocating for would be broader, allowing women to abort for a broader range of medical problems, including a larger range of fetal abnormalities, than the current law allows.

Davis’ statement comes as a shock, but perhaps that’s because we weren’t paying close enough attention. Though Davis’ opponents prefer to characterize her filibuster as nothing more than a defense of later-term abortions, in truth the bill she stood against was mostly written to shut down access to safe first-trimester abortions. And her remarks this week are largely consistent with what she said during the filibuster, when she argued that the medical exceptions in the bill for later-term abortions were too narrow, replacing a doctor’s judgment with that of nonexperts like judges.

Any abortion ban based on the lie of “fetal pain”—a lie that Davis debunked in her filibuster—is there for no other purpose but to make women’s lives harder, so it’s frustrating to see Davis come out with those statements. She is clearly banking on the fact that the 20-week ban is, realistically speaking, a minor issue when it comes to the broader attacks on abortion rights. Though we talk about these later-term abortions as if they are an epidemic, abortions after 20 weeks are a tiny fraction of abortions overall, just a little more than 1 percent of all abortions. A large chunk of these would still be legal under the kind of ban Davis says she could support, with broad rights to terminate in cases where a doctor advises it for medical reasons, since many fetal abnormalities aren’t discovered or pregnancy complications don’t arise until after 20 weeks. 

Still, most of the rest of the post-20-week abortions occur because it’s so hard to get an early term abortion in the first place, especially if you’re poor or geographically isolated, something that the new Texas law will make significantly harder. Davis’ stance means turning her back on women who get post-20-week abortions because they couldn’t get the money and time together to do it earlier—the women she was fighting for when she stood all those hours to keep clinics open so that women wouldn’t have to travel so far and wait so long in the first place. 

So why is Davis, a hero to the pro-choice movement, supporting any sort of 20-week ban? While 54 percent of Americans oppose attempts to shut down abortion clinics, 56 percent also believe that it’s best to ban abortions after 20 weeks, likely because the anti-abortion movement has been so good at spreading the lie that fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks. By opposing all the parts of the Texas law aimed at shutting down clinics while offering tentative support to a hypothetical ban on abortions after 20 weeks, Davis aligns herself with the majority view on the subject of abortion. You may have bought her sneakers, but when it comes down to it, Wendy Davis is a politician.