Wendy Davis is the country’s most prominent defender of late-term abortions. What Rosa Parks was to desegregation, what Eunice Kennedy Shriver was to respect for the disabled, what Elizabeth Cady Stanton was to women’s suffrage, the Texas state senator is to abortion after 20 weeks of fetal development.
Texas just passed a law banning abortion after that point, a measure supported by the public and by common sense, but not by the stalwart Davis. For her trouble, she has been accorded fawning media coverage and showered with $1 million in donations, showing that abortion radicalism sells in America — so long as it is pro-abortion radicalism.
A ban after 20 weeks, near the end of the second trimester, represents a minor restriction on abortion by any reasonable standard. Many European countries, which we tend to consider laxer on such matters, ban abortion well before 20 weeks. It’s not just that Wendy Davis is out of step in Texas; she would be out of step in Belgium and France, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.
Davis likes to say that fewer than 1 percent of abortions in Texas take place the 20th week or later, without realizing how that damns her own case. By her own admission, she is not willing to give up even 1 percent of abortions. Nationally, opponents of the 20-week prohibition cite the same 1 percent statistic. Even if it is accurate — and no one can know for sure — that means 8,000 abortions a year after 20 weeks.
The 20-week benchmark isn’t arbitrary. By then, the latest research suggests that fetuses feel pain. The respected University of Utah expert Maureen Condic recently testified before Congress that at 20 weeks, a fetus has “an increase in stress hormones in response to painful experiences” and other reactions that “reflect a mature, body-wide response to pain.” It is her view that fetuses “deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding their experience of pain and protection from cruelty under the law.”
The public basically believes the same thing. In Texas, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found 62 percent of people support the ban. Nationwide, even a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 59 percent support a ban after 20 weeks. A Gallup poll late last year found that 64 percent think abortion should be illegal after 12 weeks.
There is nothing outlandish or — assuming its supporters don’t make suicidally stupid rhetorical mistakes — politically risky about the Texas law. It includes an exception for the health of the mother and for extreme fetal abnormality. Asked on Meet the Press about a federal version of the Texas ban, Senate majority leader Harry Reid notably took a pass in criticizing it. On this topic at least, the formerly pro-life Democrat displays more political and moral sense than his party’s heroine of the hour from Texas.
Wendy Davis always couches her position, of course, in terms of reproductive “health.” In the very same breath, though, she opposes a provision of the Texas law requiring that abortion clinics meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. Since abortion involves outpatient surgery, this would seem an uncontroversial measure, especially given that Democrats favor the strict regulation of practically every other business and activity in America.
The provision is drawn from the recommendations of the Gosnell grand-jury report that wanted tighter controls to prevent the kind of butchery that it had investigated from happening again. The requirements, like wider hallways, aren’t frivolous. One of Kermit Gosnell’s “patients” bled to death because his clinic couldn’t properly accommodate a hospital gurney. Whistleblowers from an abortion clinic in Houston have told horror stories reminiscent of Gosnell’s unspeakable practices.
If the balance of the Democratic party weren’t invested in protecting abortion as a kind of secular sacrament — “sacred ground,” as Nancy Pelosi calls it — it would recoil from Wendy Davis in embarrassment. Instead, it lionizes her. And why not? She exemplifies its moral and political bankruptcy on this issue.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2013 King Features Syndicate