Feb 14 2014

A gal can have facets

Wendy Davis, as Time magazine has said, is no Ann Richards. Well, duh. As surprising as this may be, it’s not the 90s anymore, either.

[My close personal Twitter friend George Takei tweeted this recently:



Seriously, what’s with the incessant comparisons of Davis to Ann Richards? [And they are incessant; try searching Ann Richards at the Huffington Post, for example, and you’ll get a buttload of Wendy Davis results.] Is it because they’re both Democrats? Maybe a little, but the vast majority of former Texas governors were Democrats, and you don’t see anyone comparing her to, like, Dolph Briscoe. Nah, it’s because women are a totally alien species, and can’t be compared to men, only to each other, vadge to vadge. Texas has had only two woman governors (out of a total of 47), and the first one, Ma Ferguson, is a largely forgotten snippet of Depression-era trivia. Therefore, modern Texans know only one sort of woman governor, and she’s a wisecracking charismatic grandma who doesn’t wear pink track shoes.

Ann Richards used to follow me everywhere. Las Manitas, Austin TX, 2004.

Ann Richards used to follow me everywhere. Las Manitas, Austin TX, 2004.

You know, Wendy Davis may be no Ann Richards, but sometimes even Ann Richards was no Ann Richards. To wit: she was a fellow film buff, and an ERA supporter, and more or less a big ole feminist, but in 1993, Richards experienced a problematic brain fart and actually signed into law a bill that criminalized homosexuality. Noooooo!

Not too similarly, Wendy Davis is now coming out kinda-sorta in support of a 20-week abortion ban AND an open carry gun law. Noooooo!

There’s context, though. Richards had been vocal about getting rid of the sodomy law, but alas, was compelled by circumstance to sign the bill anyway. Yeah, she could have vetoed it, but doing so would merely have left the original sodomy law on the books, and would have lost ground in other areas into the bargain. Her modern detractors accuse her of having thrown gay rights under the bus because she was somehow cowardly. While no one would argue that it was her finest hour, I believe that otherwise her record vs. the good ole boys speaks for itself. She appointed openly gay people to her administration for crying out loud. As far as I know, no Texas governor has done that since.

This amorphous post, you will have cleverly perceived, has no point. Before I got sidetracked by a nostalgic Ann Richards reverie, I had originally intended to show that Davis is plenty Richardsesque e.g her gutsy stand against the restrictive abortion bill she filibustered, whereas Richards herself was not always as Richardsy as one might like in that she never officially lobbied for gay rights. I was going to call this post “A gal can have facets!” I was then going to segue into an examination of the language Davis employed in her recent, so-called “flip-flopping” 20-week abortion ban remarks, and use them as a springboard for a big old rant. Quoth Davis:

My concern, even in the way the 20-week ban was written in this particular bill, was that it didn’t give enough deference between a woman and her doctor making this difficult decision, and instead tried to legislatively define what it was,” Davis said. […] “It was the least objectionable…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. [Dallas Morning News]

I’ll spare you the usual long-winded gasbaggery. Here’s the gist, beginning with the language pro-choice folks always use when trying to mollify the hatas:

The decision should be between a woman and her doctor.

This dainty phrase makes the lobe throb. The infuriating implication, obviously, is that a pore dumb lady couldn’t possibly be trusted to decide all by herself whether her personal person should be used as a host for a parasitic growth. It infantilizes the woman and cedes her agency to a second party.

Look, a pregnant woman should be able to get a pregnancy terminated as she, and she alone, sees fit, without a state inspection of her motives, period. It isn’t too likely that hordes of lusty wantons are foaming at the mouth to line up at the clinic for a last-minute abortion because it’s their idea of a good old time, but even if it were, so the fuck what? It’s a woman’s personal uterus. Will she regret it later? Maybe yes and maybe no, but again, so the fuck what? It’s her personal uterus.

The “difficult decision”-making process should not have to involve some hired, second-party stranger. Neither should a woman’s interaction with the medical establishment have to be any more detailed than with any other contractor. “Here’s my insurance card. Kindly remove this growth at once, and don’t be stingy with the pain meds.”

Personal sovereignty is not a medical issue.

Vote for Davis anyway!


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  1. ew_nc

    “The decision should be between a woman and her doctor.”

    Thanks for this! That phrase grates on me terribly. It almost implies that if the doctor is in on the decision-making, then the doctor has the ability to veto the woman’s decision. That’s a big fat NOPE! because it’s not the doctor’s body, and the doctor does not have to deal with the consequences of unintended pregnancy.

    Wendy Davis, if elected, will no doubt have to make more of these concessions in order to bring about incremental change for the better. In a pre-revolutionary patriarchy, the game must be played to a certain extent. I feel for her, I wouldn’t be a politician for all the tacos in Austin.

  2. buttercup

    I’m so happy to see you posting again.

    Darn that Ann Richards. Always stalking. I miss her so. Wendy’s strength at negotiating any progress at all through Texas state governance is admirable. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

  3. Ashley

    I just blogged about that the other day. I’ve had an abortion that I regretted, but then ultimately, I didn’t regret it later. It’s… you have a great point. It’s impossible to state objectively whether an abortion is a mistake. It has the meaning that the person who has the abortion ultimately gives it. and the chances are, at least this has been my experience in my life- If I’m considering not carrying a pregnancy to term, there’s a good reason. No one tosses a quarter in the air over a pregnancy for the fuck of it. and as you stated, even if they did, it’s their decision. Women can make that choice for whatever reason they want. It’s our power, and if men don’t like that, too bad. Maybe they should learn to respect the people who made them and what life really means. No woman has ever had an abortion without being more cognizant afterwards, for better or worse, of what life actually is.

  4. emilybites

    I believe the issue should be between a woman, her family and her doctor.

    It sounds weird if you flip the gender and apply it to some dude surgery. Wisdom tooth-removal, for example. Now THAT’S a difficult decision and it should be between a man, his pastor and his dentist.

    We really need good advice about everything, now that I think about it. Going veggie? Now that’s a decision which should be between a man and his actuary. Divorce? Now that’s a decision which should be taken between a woman and her gynaecologist.

  5. Unree

    “Between a woman and her doctor” gets attributed to Harry Blackmun’s old work as general counsel for the Mayo Clinic. He loved that job. He even asked that when he died his ashes be scattered at the clinic grounds in Rochester, Minn. (His request was honored.) So when he wrote Roe v. Wade, he probably had dudely doctors in mind.

    Maybe there was no other way to get the right to abortion accepted by the all-dude Supreme Court, but it’s a damn shame. I see a straight line between Blackmun’s doctor-fluffing and Anthony Kennedy in 2007 reducing the right to remove a parasite from one’s body because, yanno, we ladies regret baby-killing even when we think we wanted it. Experts know best.

  6. gingerest

    Ehhhh, the reason the doctor is involved in the decision is that different termination methods have different potential risks. The decision whether to attack my thyroid cancer with radioiodine or with surgery is one I made with my surgeon, my endocrinologist, and my partner (because he’d have to deal with trying to live in the same space as a mildly radioactive person). It wasn’t about an assault on my autonomy, it was about getting things sorted in the safest way possible. ALthough my partner could have been left out, I wouldn’t have been able to get rid of my parasite without considerable guidance from my doctors.

    (I have oversimplified here – I’ve had both surgery and iodine and will certainly have more of at least one. But the point holds.)

  7. Fiona

    Thing is, maybe for you it would be that straightforward. Hand over the card, get it done. But for a lot of women. it isn’t like that. There’s the option of medical vs surgical termination, and the risks of each. There’s the general health of the woman and her fitness for surgery. There has to be a backup plan if termination fails (rare, but definitely happens). There’s the reason/s she’s having the termination, which may be domestic violence, outside pressure, isolation.

    It’s not a matter of giving or witholding permission. It’s offering a safe, supportive space to talk and ask questions. And if that person is the woman’s regular doctor, someone she hopefully feels comfortable with, why should it be such an issue?

    COI: doctor who has had these conversations with a number of women and referred for termination at their request.

  8. Twisty

    @ Fiona I’m not arguing that women should be prevented from seeking medical or surgical consults if that’s what they want. I’m arguing that writing doctors into the legislation infantilizes women.

  9. speedbudget

    I refer to this as the clown-car of abortion. There’s always a number of people that seem to be required to weigh in. And while I do get that, yes, sometimes you need to have a conversation about which therapy is best or whatever, the point is that it’s never written or said that way. It’s always the DECISION being made between a woman and the clown-car full of whoever else.

    The decision of whether or not to terminate pregnancy should be the woman’s decision alone. She shouldn’t always have to consult with somebody, which is the way these things are written/said/implied.

  10. gingerest

    Oh, whether to terminate should be the pregnant person’s decision. How to terminate should be addressed in consultation with an appropriately trained and experienced health care provider.

  11. Michele

    I have no way of knowing what Wendy Davis really thinks, but, to her credit, I wonder if the lanuguage, that the decision is a “joint” decision, is purposly chosen to attach some patriarchal validity to the decision and subtly defuse the idea that women might decide to terminate a pregnancy ALL BY THEMSELVES (which scares the shit out of the p because autonomy & stuff)? It seems to me, it’s still political suicide to be a feminist and to support a woman’s right to do whatever the fuck she wants with her own body, regardless of the state of her uterus. And the language that qualifies, while hugely unpalatable to those likely to be reading this blog, might make the notion slightly more palatable to those who aren’t as enlightened?

  12. pregnant pause

    Hi, I’m late to this thread to say something I never thought I’d hear myself say. My name says pregnant pause because I got the nerve to start commenting here back when I was pregnant, but now I have a 6 month old daughter, it’s got nothing to do with this topic. I’m 42, been a feminist ever since I can remember, and have always been pro-choice. I’m also Canadian, so it’s a little less of an issue here. I’ve had an abortion, when I was in my early 20s, which I don’t regret, and am glad I had safe and legal access to, (and free, Cdn healthcare covers this).

    However. Ugh, however. My daughter was 9 weeks premature and my partner and I spent 5 of the most harrowing weeks of our lives by her isolette in the NICU willing her to pull through, which she did. During that time, I saw many many babies born even earlier, some at around 22-23 weeks. I watched them, saw them with their parents, getting bathed, fed and held. The babies, although young and red and funny-looking, were people. They have personalities, even that young. While I was pregnant, (a wanted pregnancy) it seemed sort of academic, and I had trouble realizing that there was a small person inside of me, even though I felt her move, and saw the ultrasounds. When she was born, and I held her on my chest, she made identical movements and I recognized her, and it kept hitting me like a ton of bricks, that this person had been inside me.

    Medicine is getting better and better at helping pre-term babies survive, and the age of viability seems to be getting earlier. Now I think about late-term abortion and picture the babies I met and I feel awful. It seems like there is no good answer. I am still pro-choice. I know you were just being hyperbolic (sp?) about “growths” and “parasites”, but it doesn’t seem funny to me right now. I just hope they are able to make it painless for the fetuses/babies whatever we choose to call a human before it has left a woman’s body.

    At the girls camp that I help run, on the first day we talk about oppression. To give the kids an idea of what oppression is, we talk about “isms”, and say that one form of oppression we have all experienced is adultism. The world is set up so that adults have power over children and adult voices carry more weight and their rights outweigh those of children, and that adults rarely seek consent from children. It’s obvious why that is, but I keep it in mind with my daughter and when I interact with children.

    We historically haven’t really viewed babies as people until they start walking and talking. (A classic dudely POV by the way) Case in point, surgery on babies used to be conducted without anaesthetic up until as late as the 1980’s because they thought babies “didn’t feel pain” like us. Which is insane, as anyone who has spent any time at all with a baby could tell you. But they just paralyzed them and started slicing, until someone figured out that the incredibly high levels of stress hormone flooding the babies’ bodies may indicate that open heart surgery without anaesthetic is a bad idea, even on a person too small to protest.

    What’s my point? The whole thing sucks. I wish we didn’t need abortion, I wish women had education and full autonomy over their reproductive capabilities, and I wish men would see it as their responsibility too. I wish all kids were wanted and that we actually valued the work people do who care for kids and made it available and economically feasible for all. But now that I’ve met people who are 22-23 weeks old (gestational age) I can’t really do the mental gymnastics to see them as not human when inside the womb, then suddenly human on the outside. I can’t really get into the whole “when does humanity start” thing. It’s not some Catholic school debate team topic for me, I’m just calling it as I see it/live it.

    I am not really shouting this opinion from the rooftops because I don’t have any good ideas about it. I am on the side of women, and being anti-choice is not an option. But the choice feels like it’s such a heavy one, and I know that’s not the popular opinion in our feminist circles. It’s not just a medical procedure, like getting a thyroid removed, as much as we talk about it like that. There doesn’t seem to be much room for discussing the grey areas of this topic without tempers flaring, but I just feel sad and confused, and like it’s too complicated for me to feel happy with any solution.

  13. Morag

    pregnant pause,

    First, thank goodness your little daughter made it, after such a shaky start. Congratulations to you. And I’m so sorry for the terrible time you went through. I can imagine the awful vulnerability of going into early labour, and then the harrowing uncertainty in the weeks that followed.

    Pregnancy and birth are really so dangerous for women in so many ways. It’s not really openly discussed, how it puts our lives at risk, not only physically, but emotionally, psychologically, economically, socially. Those dangers are what lead us to become pro-choice. To put ourselves first.

    I have a child, and I’ve also had an abortion. I’ve heard that the majority (?) of women who obtain abortions already have children (the opposite of your experience). Not sure if this is an accurate statistic, but it makes a lot of sense to me that, after learning what motherhood really is, what it takes from her, and how the world treats mothers, a woman might be more inclined to consider terminating a pregnancy after she’s already had a child or children.

    Anyway, my abortion was difficult, but not traumatic. Like a lot of women, including you, I think, I felt mostly relieved. I had escaped from a trap. I’m mentioning my feelings about it because, at that time already having a child, I understood perfectly that what was inside of me was human, and that it was definitely the beginning of a potential person. All the same, it still was not, to me, a tiny person. Making the decision to abort early, no doubt, helped to inform my point of view, as well as having timely and free access to a nearby clinic. A lot of us, I believe, have an intuitive certainty, not only that early-term abortions are best, but that they will be less likely to cause us emotional pain or regret in the future.

    No girl or woman would wait, in a casual way, to have a late-term abortion. We are pretty sure about this, aren’t we? Late term abortions being more complex, and more invasive, risky and difficult for the woman. There are usually special circumstances involved, such as a terrified girl in denial or hiding, or a woman who discovers that there’s something terribly, terribly wrong with the fetus. Or the woman’s very life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.

    I know that those sound like justifications for something that requires moral justifications–i.e, for something morally questionable. Perhaps some late term abortions are morally problematic. I don’t know. But I don’t feel that the reality of abortion has to be sanitized, or presented as a procedure free from qualms and uncertainties, or free from distasteful images, grief, pain. Not that you said anything like that; I’m just thinking out loud about how abortion is not always–I don’t know–“clean,” and how, even when it’s ugly, this is OUR business. Again, even if some abortions are upsetting to think about, or morally problematic, it’s still women’s problem. It’s ours to own, and to deal with, without any interference from anyone.

    Is this pretty close to your position? Pro-choice, pro-liberation, pro- self-possession and sovereignty, but not necessarily at peace with every abortion scenario? You, having seen your own pre-term baby, and others’ even earlier pre-term babies, cannot pretend you don’t know something about them, when you do know something about them. About their tenderness, fragility, precariousness and personality. And now you must incorporate this new knowledge, which is distressing, into your pro-choice position. It can’t be avoided, and it’s not easy at all.

    Yes, I agree that it’s heavy–the discussion of it, and the reality of it. I’m really glad you wrote down your thoughts and feelings and shared them with us. Because we do need to be clear, with ourselves and each other, about what abortion is, and not avoid some aspects of it in order to “prove” to others that we are still worthy, and that its availability is vital to our health and our lives. It’s OK for us to be conflicted, and to talk about being conflicted, as long as we remain steadfast in our position that the right to control our own reproductive capacities comes first, always, before the fetus or anyone else.

  14. Twisty

    World class blaming from pregnant pause and morag. I thank you for your thoughtful and sensitive remarks.

    Without going into my own whole boring history, I’ve settled here: that tininess and vulnerability and having a personality, compelling those these traits may be, ultimately do not endow a person with rights that supersede those of any other person. Another person may freely choose to cede over some personal sovereignty, or not. That’s the “choice” part of pro-choice. Although you don’t need me to tell you that.

    I realize that an academic understanding of sovereignty theory, as well as a grasp of the incredible cultural pressures, internalized patriarchal messages, and hormones and stuff that may afflict actual pregnant women, doesn’t translate seamlessly into actual practice. But until birth control becomes fool-proof and my crackpot artificial uteruses become a reality, the right to choose a safe and legal abortion is absolutely, non-negotiably critical to establishing women’s status as fully autonomous human beings. I can think of no higher moral purpose than the liberation of billions of people.

  15. quixote

    pregnant pause, the whole personhood issue is a red herring when it comes to abortion. Personhood isn’t and can’t be objectively determined. I mean, there’s no cellular markers that light up once you’re there. It’s a social decision: religious, legal, tradition, or all or some of the above. It’s a shared, or a not-so-shared, belief.

    But the more important thing is that no matter what you believe about it, it doesn’t matter. Even if a two-cell zygote is considered a full legal person, that still doesn’t give them the right to requisition life support from another human being. It’s pretty obvious if you take it out of the whole women-pregnancy-child sphere.

    You may be a perfect tissue match for somebody dying of kidney disease, but that doesn’t give them the right to strap you to a gurney and take a kidney. It wouldn’t harm you physically, long term, but they still can’t do that. And in that case the person needing life support is unequivocally a person. Still doesn’t make it okay for them to demand a kidney.

    The real issue in abortion isn’t personhood or privacy or most of the other distractions. It’s medical autonomy. Do you or do you not get to control how your body is used. The answer to that is an absolute unequivocal yes except when it comes to pregnancy. Something to do with the Global Accords Governing the Fair Use of Women, I think.

    (If medical autonomy was dumped and people could demand life-saving organs from others, the implications would be rather staggering. I don’t think the forced pregnancy crowd has thought it through.)

    I know everybody here knows all this. It’s just a long way of saying you’re being perfectly consistent being pro-choice and yet feeling that, for you, a late-stage fetus is a person. You may want to donate life support to that person, but you recognize that it can’t be required.

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