Funnily enough, there is nothing in the American social contract that permits the disgruntled to scream their way to political victory. On Tuesday night, however, you could have been forgiven for thinking otherwise. When a speaking filibuster conducted by America’s new pro-choice darling, Wendy Davis, was ended by a procedural technicality, a turbulent mob descended on the chamber of the Texas state senate and set about unleashing chaos. Distressingly, the tactic worked — for 90 minutes, at least. Although the ayes prevailed in a vote held in the dying minutes of the session, the passed bill was signed at two minutes past midnight — after the session had closed for the year. Despite the self-serving attempts of the Republican majority to pretend that this did not matter, it was determined that it did. At 3 a.m., the bill was pronounced dead, and Wendy Davis and those who stood with her had won.
Had you listened solely to Davis’s bevy of supporters, you would presumably not have known what it was that she had taken to the floor to protest. In the course of their hysteria, the usual suspects rolled out the usual rhetoric, focused on irrelevancies. New York mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn explained that Davis showed an “amazing amount of courage and strength”; Sheila Jackson Lee thanked Davis for “her hard work and dedication to Texans”; Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, admired “her courage”; Cory Booker was “proud and inspired by her courage.” And typical American ingenuity was brought to bear in finding euphemisms for “killing”: New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful Barbara Buono contended that “women are worth fighting for in all our states.” And President Obama’s Twitter feed, now little more than an externally controlled avatar for all things progressive, noted that “something special is happening in Austin.”
“@WendyDavisTexas just said ‘menstrual’ which most Texas state senators think involves a song done in black face,” The Nation’s Dave Zirin wrote, in an attempt at humor that aptly demonstrated why he remains the sports editor. The fatuous charge that opponents of abortion use the issue as a way of “controlling women” was quite popular. But dress it up as they might, the truth remained ghastly: What Wendy and her team of protesters were trying to do was block a bill that would have made it illegal to deliberately kill an unborn child after 20 weeks of pregnancy. And that is a disgrace.
The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson wrote that, during the filibuster, Davis explained “how a pregnancy unfolded — all points on which, she noted, her male colleagues seemed vague.” Perhaps Davis is right that many of her fellow human beings know embarrassingly little about how they grew. I’d venture, though, that this is to her advantage: It is precisely the knowledge of how babies develop that informs my revulsion at their execution.
We might recap: By the time that a baby has been in utero for one month, blood is pumping around the body. In the second month, facial features develop, including the growth of ears, eyes, arms, legs, toes, and fingers. At six weeks, the baby’s brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system are all pretty well formed — in outline at least. By the two-month mark, sensory organs begin to develop and bone replaces cartilage.
Three months in, arms, hands, fingers, feet, and toes are fully formed, and the baby can grab with its fists as well as open and close its mouth. Teeth are on their way, as are reproductive organs. In month four, the baby is fully formed, and eyelids, eyebrows, eyelashes, nails, and hair develop. At this point, a baby can suck his thumb, yawn, hiccup, stretch, and make faces. At 18 weeks, the baby can move around, and experience REM sleep, including dreams. At 20 weeks, some studies show, it can recognize its mother’s voice.
At each of these stages, had the bill been passed, it would have remained legal in Texas to kill the child. The law that Wendy Davis and her fellow “pro-science” acolytes so bravely stood against would have rendered it illegal to kill the child after this point. And when I say kill, I mean kill. I mean break bones, rip apart limbs, crush skulls, drain fluids, still a beating heart, annihilate a brain that is capable of dreaming, and crush a nervous system. I mean: Kill. As David Freddoso put it yesterday, “Wendy Davis can now say, When the moment came to stand up for smashing the life out of a baby 6 mos into pregnancy, I was up to the task.” This is not an accomplishment of which she should be proud.
According to ThinkProgress, the bill would also have forced “all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors.” This statement, and variants of it, occurred repeatedly during the evening — and always without context. In truth, clinics would close only if they failed to meet new safety standards that have been drawn in response to the horror stories in Philadelphia and Houston. The new rules, as summarized by the Texas Alliance for Life, would have “increase[d] abortion facility safety standards to the level of ambulatory surgical centers to shut down Gosnell-like abortion providers in Texas,” “require[d] the 18,000 RU-486 abortions performed each year be done according to FDA safety standards,” and “require[d] physicians who perform abortions to be qualified to treat life-threatening complications after botched abortions and have privileges at a local hospital.”
In March, Heather Busby of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas complained about these regulations in The Texas Observer. “It’s ridiculous,” she said, “to argue that ‘Oh, abortion clinics can just simply comply with the regulations’ when we know those regulations are costly.” This is a quite astonishing thing to hear. Have we finally found the one thing that progressives do not wish to regulate? If so, what are we to make of that one thing’s being the buildings in which unborn children are murdered? If “safe, legal, and rare” is more than just another rhetorical dodge, now is the time to show it.
Unlike the chanting members of Tuesday evening’s zeitgeist, I do not stand with Wendy and, unless you wish to be an extremist, nor should you. Gallup records that 80 percent of Americans think that abortion should be illegal in the third trimester, and 64 percent think that it should be illegal in the second trimester. Americans in general favor Texas’s bill by 48 percent to 44 percent, with women supporting the measure in greater numbers than men. Sixty-two percent of Texans support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks.” It is not the friends of Texas’s bill that are out on a limb, but its enemies.
As a rule, people winning wider political battles do not invade their legislatures and scream. On Tuesday night, demonstrating a combination of genuine media savvy and animalistic frustration at not getting their own way, the diehards in the crowd shouted loudly enough to kill a bill that the majority wants. They will not prevail for long.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.