Editor’s Note: In state Sen. Wendy Davis’ (D-Fort Worth) memoir, released Tuesday, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate discusses her personal experiences with abortion in the ‘90s. Below, a Daily Texan columnist debates the merits of that decision and analyzes its implications. This is the third part of a weekly Point/Counterpoint series. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here.
It’s been a little more than a year since the sneaker-clad state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, sent shockwaves throughout the nation with her 13-hour filibuster to safeguard women’s abortion rights. Now, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Davis has made headlines once again with her memoir “Forgetting to Be Afraid,” in which she divulges little-known information that has perhaps been the driving force behind her views regarding reproductive freedom: The senator has terminated two pregnancies of her own.
Though abortion is never a completely binary decision, it’s important to note that both pregnancies were relatively atypical and heralded high-risk factors for both Davis and child. One abortion was an emergency end to an ectopic pregnancy — a procedure that is less choice than life-saving medical necessity for the mother. The second terminated pregnancy was a daughter, for whom Davis and her then-husband had already picked out a name: Tate Elise. When doctors discovered the baby would be born with severe brain abnormalities and would likely never progress beyond a vegetative state, Davis was forced to make a paralyzing and heartbreaking choice.
“The baby began to tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her in the womb,” writes Davis, describing the suffering her child was experiencing even before birth. “We knew the best thing we could do for our baby was to say goodbye.”
In the wake of such a personal revelation, it is easy to get swept away in swollen-heart declarations of support and admiration for Davis, who dared to pioneer a cause and then step bravely out from behind the curtain to reveal her own personal stake in the matter. It can be tempting to dive headfirst into sentimental anecdotes and throw strategy to the wayside in unwavering support of a cause or a story.
But that would be giving Davis far too little credit.
Let me be clear: This is not about a senator’s choice to have — or not have — an abortion. This is about a timely release of information in order to aid a campaign.
Does Davis have a right to disclose the information? Absolutely. But did she do it free from underlying party agenda? Unlikely. The memoir’s release — and its trove of secrets trumpeted within — fall within months of November’s gubernatorial election, sure to keep Davis’ reputation as a pioneer for women’s rights fresh in the hearts and minds of Texans everywhere. It was a calculated risk; those vehemently opposed to abortion could look pejoratively upon Davis’ second pregnancy termination, but many voters have expressed only empathy to Davis for her incalculable loss.
The power of a story carries extreme political currency. It adds roots where only facts existed before; it sets the speaker on a level that seems somewhat above reproach. Like any good candidate, Davis is using her past to throw out a cleverly disguised gauntlet that she knows will resonate with voters.
At the heart of all her pink-shoed, rags-to-riches glory, Davis is a politician. She is ambitious and shrewd — she wouldn’t have earned a spot in this race if she were anything else.
More than ever, she knows it is time to pull out the big guns. The latest polls are somewhat grim, placing the senator a whopping 12 points behind Republican candidate Greg Abbott. Though Davis continues to press on with the strength and dexterity necessary for any Democrat to persevere in the Texas Legislature, it cannot go without saying that the bulk of her fame stems from her work for reproductive freedom. A year ago, an overwhelming number of Texans “stood with Davis.” Now, struggling to rally voters around her initiatives on education and equal pay, Davis is retreating to familiar territory.
More than anything, Davis knows the power of getting personal. Her “narrative” as a senator is a rare breed of feminine heroism, one which strikes with both empathy and ambition, and it is through the ingeniously crafted public relations machine around her that Wendy has appealed to poverty-level voters and pundits alike. She is quick to reference her own humble beginnings and speaks frequently of the adversity she faced as a self-supporting student at Harvard Law School. Davis knows this is the forum in which she shines. If anything can help this underdog candidate stand a fighting chance in the race, this last-ditch ploy for empathy will be it.
The stakes are high in Texas, and with Davis lagging behind in recent polls, the gubernatorial candidate is doing for her narrative what politicians do best: picking up the pen and writing it herself.
Deppisch is a government senior from League City.