Davis makes heroic decision in revealing abortion details

Katherine Adams

Correction: An earlier version of this column cited a quote from a National Review article that has since been corrected. It was, in fact, Cheryl Sullenger, of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who called Davis' abortions "alleged."

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 guest 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.   

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the Democratic candidate for governor, rose to international fame last year with her filibuster of an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would have closed down nearly all Texas abortion clinics. For nearly 13 hours, she shared stories from Texas women whom Republican lawmakers had tried to silence while the bill was in committee. But until recently, we had no idea how deeply personal the filibuster was for her. Last weekend, Davis chose to reveal in her new memoir, “Forgetting to be Afraid,” that she, like many women all over the state, has faced the intimate decision to end a pregnancy.

The specifics of Davis’ circumstances show how vital it is that women keep their right to make personal medical decisions without heavy-handed government intervention. In the book, Davis reveals that she lost two children in the ‘90s, one to an abortion induced to end an ectopic pregnancy she has discussed before, the other to an abortion carried out to save the fetus from a life of immense challenges. Ectopic pregnancies, though rare, are critically threatening to the health and life of the mother. Davis’ tragic discovery of severe fetal abnormalities that would have left her daughter in a permanent vegetative state — if she had even survived to term — dealt her yet another devastating decision. 

“While no woman should have to justify her decision, abortion in later pregnancy is rare, and is often due to the same sort of tragic and heartbreaking circumstance that Wendy experienced,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said.

Davis desperately wanted her children, but both pregnancies were troubled from the start.  She faced a gut-wrenching decision and chose the path that was right for her and her family: a path of compassion and one that kept her alive. Fortunately for Davis, she was able to do so with minimal governmental interference. Anti-choice politicians, and the laws they peddle, pile unnecessary barriers, guilt and shame onto women already in emotional circumstances.

Story-sharing can be empowering for people who choose to talk about their experiences. For those of us who listen, it fosters compassion and understanding — two things often in short supply when discussing abortion.

In the United States, one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Statistically speaking, it’s likely we all know someone who has made this decision. But the stigma that surrounds choosing to have an abortion keeps many women silent. It takes women like Davis coming forth to speak about their experiences to pave the way for others to follow suit.

Over the course of her campaign, Davis has shared many personal stories with us. She likes to remind us that she doesn’t share a story because it’s “unique” or “special,” but that she shares it “precisely because it’s not.” Her experience as a young mother resonates with Texas’ tens of thousands of teen moms. Her struggle to keep the lights on in her trailer hits home with any Texan who’s ever faced the difficulty of mounting bills and low-paying jobs. And now her deeply moving story of facing a decision to end two pregnancies reminds the one in three American women who have also ended a pregnancy that she is, in fact, one of us.

But already, right-wing pundits are attempting to take away Davis’ control over her own story. This isn’t anything new. Out-of-touch politicians are fond of labeling the women who seek abortions as careless and selfish while refusing to listen to their stories. The National Review, in an attempt to discredit Davis, called her tragic, personal story “unverifiable” and “convenient.” Cheryl Sullenger, of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, seemed to question Davis’ abortions — going so far as to call them “alleged.” Republicans are choosing to question Davis and her family in sad attempts to use her story to score political points, rather than taking the opportunity to simply say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It’s easy to feel removed from government, especially in a state where the leading politicians are not nearly as diverse as the populace they represent. In sharing her story, Davis offers herself up as a role model for Texans who feel disconnected from lawmakers who cannot empathize with their struggles. We can relate to her, seeing her as someone who has faced enormous obstacles and overcome them with the help of her family, her community and her education. This sort of personal connection with the people of Texas is exactly what Greg Abbott should be afraid of.

When Davis took the Senate floor last summer, we saw a hero: a woman who would speak truth to power and give voice to the millions of people silenced by shame, stigma or even their own government. Her decision to share her own particular story more than a year later shows how personal those 13 hours on the Senate floor must have been for her. Her courage and bravery in revealing painful memories from her past are everything that Texas could want in a leader; her compassion and empathy are what Texas needs.

Since last summer, we’ve been wearing orange shirts proclaiming that we “stand with Wendy Davis”; this week she revealed that she’s been standing with us all along.

Adams is the communications director of University Democrats. She is a mechanical engineering senior from Dripping Springs.