Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who filibustered an abortion law for thirteen hours last year and became a lightning-rod for anti-abortion zealots, has revealed in her campaign memoir that she underwent two abortions in the 1990s.
Davis writes in Forgetting to be Afraid that she had an abortion in 1996 after an exam revealed that the brain of the fetus had developed in complete separation on the right and left sides. She also describes ending an earlier ectopic pregnancy, in which an embryo implants outside the uterus.
[…] She writes that the ectopic pregnancy happened in 1994 during her first trimester. Terminating the pregnancy was considered medically necessary. Such pregnancies generally aren’t considered viable, meaning the fetus can’t survive, and the mother’s life could be in danger. But Davis wrote that in Texas, it’s “technically considered an abortion, and doctors have to report it as such.”
Davis said she and her former husband, Jeff, wound up expecting another child in 1996. After a later exam revealed the brain defect, doctors told her the baby would be deaf, blind and in a permanent vegetative state if she survived delivery.
“I could feel her little body tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her, and I knew then what I needed to do,” Davis writes. “She was suffering.”
Davis has been a target of vitriol and abuse on the right ever since her brave stand, and this development puts those attacks in stark relief. Voters are likely to respond positively to her story now and be put off by those attacks. In fact, the worse they are, the more energetic her support is likely to become.
Greg Abbott, her opponent, has tried very hard to not stake out a position on exactly the kind of abortions Davis received because they are the most sympathetic kind of cases. Whereas many voters would be put off by an extreme position against abortions for the most legitimate medical reasons, the most virulent pro-life voters will shriek if Abbott adopts any but the most extreme position to the contrary. There is simply no win for him on this topic.
More than one in five American women has an abortion in her lifetime, and support for access is quite strong even among Republican women. In part, Davis is polling behind Abbott by double-digits because she has not leveraged the issue yet. And if doing so gets her elected, or even just gets her closer than she is now, it may very well change how Democrats approach the topic from now on.