This week on my Facebook feed, a D.C.-dwelling college acquaintance of mine—we attended New York University together—posted a story about Texas’ Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. In his erudite commentary accompanying the piece, he called her “fucking awful.”
This guy is not a Republican; in fact, he described himself as a fellow “soldier” in the political fight against odious abortion restrictions. I may be an NYU alum (go Bobcats!), but I’m a native Texan, and I’ve chosen to make my home state my forever-home-state.
What made Davis so “fucking awful”? She told Texas news media that she would support a 20-week abortion ban with extensive exceptions for health issues and fetal anomaly, and which gave great deference to the decision-making power of pregnant people and their doctors.
The national media has spun Davis’ statement as a betrayal, a grand leap of hypocrisy. We saw headlines like “Wendy Davis Is Pretty Much Fine With The Abortion Ban She Filibustered” (Gawker), “Wendy Davis, Hero to the Pro-Choice Movement, Comes Out In Support Of A 20-Week Abortion Ban” (Slate), and “Wendy Davis Backs Limited Late-Term Abortion Ban, Despite Historic Filibuster” (Fox News).
But the truth is that the position Davis took when she sat down with the Dallas Morning News this week is very much the same position she took when she stood up for 13 hours in the Texas senate chamber last summer. Davis never opposed the 20-week ban entirely; she wanted it to have more exceptions—notably, a mental health exception. She’s noted how rare later abortions are—less than half of 1 percent of legal abortions are performed after 20 weeks—and she has spent most of her time on the topic focusing on those people who seek them for medical reasons.
I don’t agree with Davis’ position on this today, and I didn’t agree with her last summer at the state capitol. I think 20-week abortion bans are disgusting intrusions into bodily autonomy, and I think they hurt people who are the most vulnerable and the most marginalized. I stand both with pregnant people and families who seek them for medical reasons and with the people who seek them because, so often, they are unable to afford or access earlier abortions.
But I also recognize the seriousness of the situation on the ground here in Texas. I see that the effect of allowing conservative lawmakers to steamroll over Texans with nigh-unchecked legislation that not only makes bodily autonomy a thing of the past, but which has unraveled our school systems and put them in the hands of private operators, which has dirtied our lakes and rivers, and which has made North Texas an earthquake-ridden playland for big energy companies hell-bent on fracking the state into kingdom come.
With all this in mind, I have watched as those who would call themselves liberal allies deride and mock Davis from their homes in blue states. On Twitter, reacting to Gawker’s Davis piece, a Brooklyn-dwelling writer wrote that she “cannot, anymore, with Democrats.”
Forgive me, but I cannot, anymore, with people who can afford to value political purity over the reality of what it’s going to take to get Texans fed, get Texans to affordable doctors, get Texans into quality public schools. I cannot, anymore, with the fact that more than one-quarter of my fellow Texans live without health insurance.
I am not a particular fan of the saying “never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I think that attitude often allows for inaction and for dangerous compromise that forces people who are most in need to put their priorities aside in order to satisfy the status quo. But I’m also a realist, and the policies that Wendy Davis supports are incredibly important first steps in moving Texas forward. They are not perfect, but they are good. They’re very good.
Texans don’t need a governor who can pass a perfect pro-choice litmus test; they need one who isn’t chomping at the bit to repeal Roe v. Wade, who won’t privatize public schools, who won’t champion cuts to food stamps because they believe poor people aren’t entitled to eat. Those things are “fucking awful.” A Davis governorship would be an incredible sea change in Texas, and it could open the doors to a new future wherein we’re no longer the state with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, wherein our leaders don’t look at the Mexican border and see a battle zone being overtaken by an “illegal invasion” or a “third-world country.”
Texas is never getting a governor who believes in free abortion on demand if it doesn’t first get a governor who believes in health exceptions to a 20-week abortion ban—a ban that was just one part of a bill that, never forget, was part of a package of omnibus anti-abortion access legislation that is set to shutter all but six abortion providers in this state come September.
Playing “gotcha” with Wendy Davis over a position on abortion that is not only mainstream for Texas Democrats, but for Democrats nationwide, also ignores the wider mission of what it means to be a reproductive justice advocate. This is where the language of “choice” fails us; the technical legality of abortion after 20 weeks means little to those who cannot pay for the procedure in the first place.
When I look at the totality of what Wendy Davis stands for—well-funded public schools and smart environmental regulation, just to get us started—I see the first steps toward a Texas that doesn’t see thousands of people living in colonias without access to running water or electricity. I see the first steps toward a Texas where people don’t visit emergency rooms for sore throats, and where energy companies can’t run pipelines through farm and ranchland whenever and wherever they feel like it. I see a Texas with a federal Medicaid expansion, a Texas where the maternal mortality rate doesn’t increase by 400 percent in fifteen years, and a Texas where abortion providers aren’t forced to tell state-sanctioned lies to pregnant people about breast cancer.
I would love to not have to compromise on a 20-week abortion ban. But right now, Texans have to work with reality. And the reality is that we cannot all pack up our homes and families and relocate to more amenable political geographies; we must do our work here, not just for ourselves, but for the greater good—not the greater perfection.