This week, democratic candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis revealed that, in the '90s, she ended two pregnancies. And, it's a huge deal. Because despite the fact that nearly one in three American women will have an abortion before age 45, she's one of the few talking about it publicly.
It’s been more than a year since Davis, a state senator, rose to glory on the floor of the Texas state senate chamber, with her 11-hour pink-sneaker-clad filibuster to block a spate of serious anti-choice restrictions. Her epic speech couldn’t keep the Dark Ages from creeping back into the state, but it did make her a new national advocate for women’s reproductive rights. Now, she’s continuing to fight the good fight by speaking out about the medical procedure that many women — especially those running for elected office — still feel the need to hide.
We’ve long known that Davis has her feet firmly planted in pro-choice territory, but her new memoir, “Forgetting To Be Afraid,” has gone a step further. Late into a pregnancy in 1997, Ms. Davis and her husband learned that the fetus had developed a severe brain abnormality and wouldn’t survive long after birth. Already a mother of two, Davis elected to end the pregnancy — a decision she wouldn’t have been able to make had the ban on abortions after 20 weeks in Texas been in effect. She spoke of the first procedure, an ectopic pregnancy she ended in 1994, during her famous filibuster. (And, yes, even though an ectopic pregnancy poses a life-threatening danger to the mother, the medical procedure is still technically an abortion.)
Texas is a pretty fearsome place for women’s choice these days: In July, Governor Rick Perry signed a bill that gave the state some of the toughest restrictions on abortions in the U.S., banning them after 20 weeks and instating measures that could force most abortion clinics to shutter their doors. Pro-choice advocates have fought to keep and reopen clinics, but the battle is far from over. Davis currently trails her gubernatorial opponent, Gre Abbott, who is against legal abortion even in cases of incest and rape. But, regardless of whether or not Davis wins in November, the fact that she’s talking about her abortion while she’s in the spotlight is a pretty major event in itself.
Davis isn’t the first policymaker to own up to having an abortion. California Democrat Jackie Speier shared her story in a U.S. House debate back in 2011, and earlier this summer, Rep. Lucy Flores copped to hers at the age of 16 — and refreshingly talked about it as a personal choice instead of a medical necessity. But, it’s still a rarity. Even taking into account how woefully few women there are in the U.S. government, there have got to be more than just a few who have firsthand experience with this issue. And, while no woman should have to share her private health information, treating abortion like a dirty secret only heightens the stigma and creates an antagonistic environment for women’s family-planning choices. Just ask Davis, who was promptly dubbed Abortion Barbie after discussing her procedure last year.
Davis has been lauded and criticized (the phrase “subhuman instinct” was used by a GOP consultant in a now-deleted tweet), and the effect of the announcement on her political future is hazy. Regardless, what is clear is that her admission is important. A key part of the nationwide and state-level family-planning debate is the real-life narratives from the people abortion laws actually impact. (And, the majority, just like Davis, are married women). But, at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter if we’re talking about a married democratic senator who elected to have an abortion because of the fetus’ viability or a young woman who admits to not being ready for the responsibility of parenthood.