Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis (D) muddied her stance on abortion rights this week, telling the Dallas Morning News that she could support some version of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But three of her biggest pro-abortion rights backers -- EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- did not flinch at the news.
"Abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances, and like the majority of Americans, Wendy Davis believes that these personal health care decisions should be between a woman and her doctor," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Votes. "What’s clear is that Wendy has spent her life standing up for Texas women and their families while [Republican candidate for governor] Greg Abbott has fought to restrict access to safe and legal abortion, and women's health care."
Davis said that she could support a 20-week ban if it deferred more to the woman and her doctor, and if it had exceptions for fetal anomalies and the health of the mother. The anti-abortion bill she filibustered last summer included a 20-week ban without those two exceptions and a number of other provisions that threatened to shut down a majority of the abortion clinics in Texas.
The 20-week ban was the "least objectionable" part of that bill, Davis said.
“I would have and could have voted to allow that to go through, if I felt like we had tightly defined the ability for a woman and a doctor to be making this decision together and not have the Legislature get too deep in the weeds of how we would describe when that was appropriate," she said.
Any 20-week ban, even with multiple exceptions, would violate the U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade protects women's ability to have an abortion up until the fetus is viable, around 24 weeks.
EMILY's List, a group dedicated to electing female pro-abortion rights candidates, also stands by its endorsement of Davis. "Wendy Davis has been a consistent champion for Texas women and families –- and she’s the only candidate in this race who will put them first," said Jess McIntosh, communications director for EMILY's List. "[Attorney General] Greg Abbott has a shockingly anti-woman agenda and it is mission critical that we continue to tell voters about the crystal clear contrast between these two on this -– and virtually every other -– issue."
Davis' statement is not exactly a pivot. In the past, she has simply avoided answering the question of whether she would oppose a 20-week ban. But she specifically took issue with the 20-week ban during her filibuster, arguing that her Republican colleagues could not back up the portion of the bill that claims fetuses can feel pain after that point.
"Members, I have a stack of articles that refute that there is substantial medical evidence that demonstrates that," she said at the time.
Davis might be hedging on the ban now because she is running for governor, and a majority of Texans support banning abortions after 20 weeks. But the kind of 20-week abortion limit Davis said she would support has never been proposed in the United States. Most 20-week bans proposed by state legislatures are similar to the one the U.S. House of Representatives passed last summer, which only includes exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue did not react to Davis' comments on Wednesday, but said Davis is still a "champion for women."
"We believe that decisions around abortion care must remain between a woman and her doctor, and not by politicians," she said. "Electing Wendy Davis as the next governor of Texas will help advance this cause."