When former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Texas) went to work on June 26, 2013, she didn’t expect to be thrown into the national spotlight at the center of a raging debate about abortion.
After Davis' nearly 11-hour filibuster against what was being called one of the most restrictive pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the country, the bill in question, House Bill 2, passed nonetheless in Texas, forcing many abortion providers to close.
But this June, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the legislation placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion, declaring it unconstitutional. It was the biggest victory for women’s reproductive rights, some said, since Roe v. Wade.
Though not a full-on win, the court's ruling can be considered a step forward since Davis' passionate fight in 2013. These days, she continues to battle for women’s rights and access to healthcare across the country through her recently founded non-profit, Deeds Not Words. More recently, she’s also been touring the country in support of Hillary Clinton.
ATTN: recently caught up with Davis to talk about the importance of access to abortion, healthcare, and having the power to control one's reproductive health.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
ATTN: How has access to healthcare and the power to make your own decisions about reproductive rights impacted your own life?
Wendy Davis: My own personal story is like so many other women in this country — controlling my reproductive destiny helped me control my economic opportunity. It made my journey possible for me. I was a young single mom, and had it not been for the reproductive health care I received at a Planned Parenthood near my home — the only healthcare I had for several years — I would not have been able to take control of my reproductive fate. Once I put my foot on the path of higher education and began to lift myself and my daughter up and out of poverty, I knew I could stay on that path because I could control when I might have another child.
ATTN: It’s estimated that around one in three women will have an abortion before the age of 45. Your decision to share your story about terminating an ectopic pregnancy, and having an abortion after discovering a brain abnormality has helped humanize the issue. Why is the decision to terminate a pregnancy still so stigmatized?
Davis: When women share their reproductive stories, whether it is about contraceptive care or abortion care, we empower each other to feel de-stigmatized in making those decisions for ourselves. We create a sisterhood, if you will, of story-sharing that helps us know that we are not alone, and that these decisions are really okay.
I made a decision to have an abortion when I was in my early 30s. I had a very much planned and much desired pregnancy that resulted in our discovery that our daughter was suffering from a very severe brain abnormality. I can’t imagine a lawmaker making a decision for me and my family. We made the decision that we made out of love, understanding if we did deliver this child into the world, if she survived, her life would be filled with suffering. And we wanted to spare her that. That was my decision to make. My ability to share this story, I hope, helps other women who may be facing a situation like that, or something completely different, to feel as though this story belongs to her, this decision belongs to her. And there is no shame in it whatsoever.
ATTN: How do laws like House Bill 2 affect women and their communities?
Davis: When women lose access to the only healthcare that they have, the consequences to their health of course begin to reveal themselves. That was certainly the case in Texas. When almost 80 clinics closed as a results of a decreed war on Planned Parenthood, an estimated 120,000 to 180,00 women lost their healthcare. Sadly and alarmingly, a few weeks ago a study came out that showed that the maternal death rate in Texas doubled from 2010 to 2014. These are politicians who are literally playing with women's bodies in order to score political points, and women, quite honestly, are dying as a consequence of it. We should all be alarmed. We should all be angered, and certainly, all ought to work to change the landscape of what our politicians’ faces and platforms look like.
ATTN: This is also about providing adequate sex education to young people. What some of the problems with abstinence-only programs, for example?
Davis: When we aren’t equipping young people with the tools to understand how to control their reproductive destinies, we are removing from them the ability to do that. And we’re creating long-term devastating impacts on young women and men who find themselves faced with the responsibility of raising children they are ill-equipped to raise, in many, many ways.
ATTN: How do you see some of these issues playing out in this election?
Davis: I know a lot of women in this country feel like we’ll never lose our right to abortion care, but that’s just wrong. This presidential election and the outcome of what these Supreme Court Justice appointments will look like are going to impact us for decades to come, far beyond the lifetime of this particular presidential term, by virtue of putting anti-choice or pro-choice justices on that court. When you think about women in this country, women who lose access to abortion, lose access to so much more than that. By controlling our bodies, we control our future. It’s as simple as that.