Did Wendy Davis “Flip-Flop” On Late-Term Abortions?

It was one of those political news stories that can be highly misleading if you don’t look at it carefully: Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is being widely quoted as issuing a modification of her views on abortion policy–the topic that made her a national political figure after she led a filibuster against a cookie-cutter antichoice bill in Austin–that is already being mocked by Republicans as a flip-flop.

MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, who is always an outstanding analyst of abortion politics, defends Davis from the “flip-flop” charge but does fear she’s fallen into a common trap: getting snarled in the complexities of deliberately deceptive language about abortion-ban “exceptions” instead of staying on clear and high ground. Reflecting the actual priorities of the antichoice movement, the intention of the Texas bill was to reduce the availability of abortion services across the board. But reflecting RTL mendacity, supporters focused all the attention on the tiny minority of abortions that occur–usually for medical reasons but sometimes because earlier abortions were not available or affordable–after “fetal viability.”

Now Davis is locked into a debate that will inevitably go down the rabbit hole into the meaning of exceptions she accepts and those she rejects. Among other things, this will obscure the rather important and vast gap between her and antichoicers (including most Republican officeholders everywhere) on the early-term abortions that represent the vast majority of procedures and that the GOP “supply-side” strategy really aims to inhibit until such time as an actual complete abortion ban can be enacted.

Carmon’s advice to Davis and others in her position is spot-on:

It’s far too late for Davis to shy away from abortion rights, including the more politically uncomfortable parts, after confronting them head-on in her filibuster. Regardless of what she was trying to say, a political campaign isn’t a great place for complex or nuanced moral conversations. On the campaign trail, Davis would likely be better off if she stuck to the broader point she made in her filibuster: “The alleged reason for the bill is to enhance patient safety. But what [the provisions] really do is create provisions that treat women as though they are not capable of making their own medical decisions.”

That’s not a position on which she is likely ever to “flip-flop.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.