The Conversation

Video: Wendy Davis Opposing a 20 Week Abortion Ban

This week Wendy Davis announced that she would not object in principle to a 20 week ban on abortion saying she would "prefer" it not happen except in cases of a grave threat to the woman's health or severe fetal abnormality.

It's worth noting that, contrary to her claims this week, Davis explicitly rejected the 20 week ban during her 12 hour filibuster last June. Here she is, in her pink sneakers, voicing objection to that part of the bill:

It's important to note that Davis' new found moderation is not only a sign of "political desperation" but also a sham. The bill Davis filibustered contained an exception which read "this Act does not apply to abortions that are necessary to avert the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman." It also included an exception for "severe fetal abnormality."

But Davis wanted an exception for the "health" of the mother to cover unforeseen circumstances. Davis herself did not explain what this meant (or perhaps the Dallas Morning News chose not to publish her explanation) but MSNBC's Irin Carmon offers her explanation of what it might mean:

That could mean a fetus with a severe abnormality but that doesn’t incontrovertibly mean immediate death after delivery. Or it could be a woman who is diagnosed with cancer late in a pregnancy and has to choose between foregoing treatment that would harm a fetus and a later abortion. While not all later abortions involve such cases, a broad health exception would cover them.

So in the first case we're talking about an abnormality which is severe but not severe enough to cause immediate death. That seems like a reasonable point to raise. But the more important question is what if the abnormality is not severe? What if the baby has cleft palate or an extra finger? What if the woman decides she doesn't want a girl? Would late term abortion be an option in these cases under a Wendy Davis approved health exception? If so then the ban is meaningless.

In the second instance, a cancer diagnosis which requires chemo or radiation treatment would fall under an exemption already written in to the law. The law states "an act is not an abortion if the act is done with intent to...treat a maternal disease or illness for which a prescribed drug, medicine, or other substance is indicated." In other words, if you have cancer and your doctor says you need chemo that's not an abortion and not subject to the ban even if it results in the death of the baby.

So that's two examples, one of which is clearly already exempted by the text of the law. The other is more arguable but the proposed solution has no defined limits, making the ban itself meaningless.

If Wendy Davis wanted to offer a fix to the bill's language, she had 12 hours to do so last June. Instead she opposed the entire bill including the 20 week ban. Her second thoughts this week have less to do with her actual beliefs about abortion and more to do with her floundering campaign.


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