Commentary Magazine


Wendy Davis’s Abortion Flip Disaster

In recent weeks, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis has been struggling to get her gubernatorial campaign back on track. After rocketing to stardom last year for her 13-hour filibuster in the Texas State Senate to stop a bill limiting late-term abortions, Davis became the idol of liberals and their great hope to lead a Democratic revival in the Lone Star State. But while Democrats and feminists saw her as the new voice of abortion-rights advocacy, her campaign strategists preferred to emphasize her life story as a someone who rose from being a single mother in living in a trailer park and then worked her way through college and law school. But the publication last month of Dallas Morning News feature that revealed that Davis was not quite the self-starter she claimed to be revealed the perils of running on a mythical Horatio Alger story.

Along with tales of a troubled and possibly incompetent staff, Davis’ long shot run for Austin seemed in trouble. But as bad as all that seemed, the latest news about Davis should not only brand her as a hypocrite but further dampen the enthusiasm of her national audience. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Davis now says she supports the very same ban on abortions that she filibustered: 

Wendy Davis said Tuesday that she would have supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor.

Davis, a Fort Worth senator and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, told The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board that less than one-half of 1 percent of Texas abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those were in cases where fetal abnormalities were evident or there were grave risks to the health of the woman.

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” Davis said.

While Davis tried to explain her famous filibuster by claiming that the Texas bill she temporarily stopped didn’t provide enough exceptions to the ban to account for risks to the health of women, that isn’t true. The bill had the same exceptions that Davis said she wanted. While there was a difference of opinion about the tougher safety standards for abortion clinics that was part of the legislation (provisions that protected the health of women), there was little question that the real issue here was late-term abortion. By claiming now to be in favor of such a ban in a vain effort to curry favor with moderate Texas voters, Davis has trashed her own brand. If Texans were not already questioning her authenticity after learning more about her personal history, they know understand that even on her signature issue, she’s as phony as three dollar bill.

This cynical pivot on abortion shouldn’t surprise those who have followed Davis’s career closely. As even the sympathetic profile in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine reveals, the Texas state senator is a cool customer who has built her career on pragmatism and is nothing like the supermom or the liberal ideologue that her fans loved. Though the national discussion about her filibuster that was fueled by the glowing stories about Davis that were broadcast and published by the liberal mainstream media portrayed her as a lone figure standing up against dark forces of intolerance, her latest comments about the issue reveal that she understands what most Americans are thinking about abortion.

Nationwide efforts to ban late-term abortions are not driven by pro-life fanaticism but by the recognition by the majority of Americans that once a fetus is viable, the line between abortion and infanticide has been erased. Just as important, the conditions and practices at clinics that perform such procedures have come under greater scrutiny since the Kermit Gosnell murder case in Philadelphia last year. Davis’s effort to avoid being labeled as the champion of such procedures is an understandable attempt to be seen as part of the mainstream rather than as a symbol of liberal extremism.

But the problem for Davis is that this maneuver will now be seen as just another example of her dishonesty. Voters understand that a women who would fib about working her way up on her own when, in fact, she was put through college and law school by the financial support of an older second husband whom she discarded once he had paid off her debts, is someone who is liable to say or do anything to get ahead. The Times Magazine profile, which provides a breathless account of the filibuster, also reveals that Davis sent an envoy to her ex-husband last fall to persuade him to keep quiet about the details of their marriage and divorce. Unfortunately for her, he hasn’t complied and the portrait of the candidate that has emerged from his interviews has been devastating. When asked about his ex-wife’s attempts to portray herself as a more dutiful mother than she actually was, Jeff Davis, who emptied a retirement account to put Wendy through Harvard Law and then gave her a no-show job at his company to give her a salary, wearily responded to Times writer Robert Draper, “print the legend,” the classic line from the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Perhaps liberals would still like Davis’s career to be portrayed in the manner of the hero of that film whose fictional exploits were deemed more important than the truth, but Davis’s flip flop on late-term abortion puts a neat bow on the story line of her mendacity. Wendy Davis’s campaign was built on the idea that she was different from other politicians. But it turns out that not only does her personal life show her to be a typical Type A political animal that will exploit anyone to get ahead, she’s even willing to fudge on the issue that made her a star. That’s a formula almost certain to return her to a well-deserved obscurity after November.

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