Wendy Davis became a folk heroine of the Twitterverse last week when, donning a pair of pink Mizuno sneakers, she filibustered a Texas senate bill that would have restricted abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and further regulated the state’s abortion clinics. The whole Texas showdown between Sen. Davis and the legislature’s Republican majority was quickly simplified to satisfy bloggers, Facebook posters, and re-Tweeters. In their near-instant version of events, Davis was a “feminist superhero”, courageously battling her chauvinistic male colleagues who sought to shut her down on false procedural grounds. (She even won the "distinction" of becoming a bizarro-world digital Avenger in Taiwan.)
Having waited a bit for the dust to settle, here are my own thoughts on the Davis debacle:
1. Though I strongly disagree with Davis’ aims, I support the ability of minority senators to filibuster popular legislation. It’s an important safeguard against the tyranny of the majority. I would hope that even opponents of Rand Paul and his position on domestic drones recognize this. But it’s a strange irony that Davis, a minority senator, was bolstered by a storm of shouting pro-abortion spectators, who created a majoritarian mob-like atmosphere at the end of the session.
On principle, this kind of hooting and hollering is inappropriate in the legislature. But there are actual rules against this stuff. As the rules for Texas Senate decorum and spectator behavior make abundantly clear, there is to be “no applause, outbursts, or other demonstrations by any spectator shall be permitted during a session of the Senate” (3.05). These stipulations are to be “strictly enforced,” and after “repeated warnings” for the demonstrators to stop, the chair has to power to “direct the Sargent-at-Arms to clear the gallery and lock the doors leading to the Senate Chamber.”
I’m still not sure why the chair didn’t put an end to this blatant rule-breaking or why no one seems to be calling the protestors out on their hypocrisy. Moreover, Davis and her supporters should be wary of promoting the kind of direct democracy where the loudest voices rule—especially since, in Texas, conservatives have a decided numerical advantage.
2. I was shocked to hear the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan say, on ABC’s This Week, that Davis stood for “infanticide.” What’s more, I was shocked at my own shock. Even as a conservative who’s firmly opposed to abortion and who’s usually attuned to the media’s biased coverage of the culture wars, I realized I’d been so distracted by the Left’s celebration of Davis’ message and trendy footwear that I’d overlooked the heart of the issue: Davis was filibustering on behalf of the “right” for women in Texas to kill their second or third-term fetus.
3. Ross Douthat, the only conservative at the New York Times, is right to criticize the press for failing to offer the back-story for why the Texas legislature crafted its bill in the first place—namely the grisly Kermit Gosnell case. When gun control advocates attempted their own post-Newton legislation, the press certainly gave them the benefit of the doubt. Douthat writes:
[A]bortion opponents have basically tried to do what gun control advocates did after Newtown, and use a horror story to make the case for policies that have clear majority support but also face passionate opposition. And Davis and other abortion rights supporters have tried to do in Texas what gun rights supporters did in the United States Senate: Use countermajoritarian mechanisms to thwart a legislative push, and hope that with time and sufficiently passionate opposition the energy behind the bill will subside.
As I noted in a previous IR post about the Gosnell case, Gosnell’s gruesome clinic, which specialized in very late term abortions, was illegal, but only because of regulations passed by conservatives. I doubt those regulations on third term and partial birth abortions would be on the books if the radical Texas pro-choicers had their way. In a strange way, in order for the Left to morally distance themselves from murderers like Gosnell, they need bills like the one in Texas to pass.
4. Gov. Rick Perry may have been correct when he stated that Davis, the daughter of a single teen mom who eventually went on to graduate from Harvard Law School, has been successful because her mother chose life and that “it’s unfortunate she hasn’t learned from her own example and that every life matters.” But he should have read the situation better than that. Yes, he’s popular in Texas, but not among the millions of millennials with an Internet connection who immediately derided his remarks. Perry’s comments only served to make last week’s Twitter fracas more sensational. Worse, he further fueled the Left’s “War on Women” narrative, which goes something like this: Powerful and closed-minded white men love nothing more than violating the “rights” of politically vulnerable women. The narrative, of course, is nonsensical, but as long as people like Perry are making the news based on controversial and personal statements, pro-choicers can distract from the facts and what they’re actually defending when they talk about “reproductive rights.”
5. Finally, I have yet to hear pro-lifers highlight how contradictory it is for pro-choicers to argue that the Texas bill would force most abortion clinics out of business. ThinkProgress calculated that the bill’s regulations would close all but 5 such clinics. It’s true that the bill’s supporters, most of whom are pro-life, probably see curtailing the state’s clinics as a good thing. But are the radical pro-choicers, who perpetually remind us how much they care about women’s health, really opposed to bringing these clinics in line with FDA safety standards and requiring physicians to be just as qualified to treat life-threatening complications as they would at a local hospital? If these basic, quite reasonable regulations are so onerous that they force virtually all Texas clinics to shut down, what are those facilities actually like now? The Gosnell case is looking more and more relevant.
Furthermore, folks on the Left regularly defend funding clinics like Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars because “abortion services” account for only 3 percent of what the clinics actually do. According to proponents, most of the clinics’ operations go toward cancer-screenings, STD testing, and contraception. The hysteria over the Texas bill and the closing clinics demonstrates just how dubious these kinds of talking points about PP being just another doctors’ office always were. If abortion is actually such a small percentage of PP’s operations, surely the bill’s regulations wouldn’t shutdown most of the facilities in the state. Unless, as pro-lifers have always maintained, abortion is the tragic lifeblood of those centers.