Over the past several weeks, reproductive rights activists in Texas have been engaged in a long-standing battle with the state legislature in an attempt to prevent a package of stringent abortion restrictions from becoming law. On Monday, as the state Senate considered the proposals — which would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force the vast majority of the state’s abortion clinics to close — the legislation once again inspired public protests from both opponents and supporters.
Students for Life, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest youth pro-life organization,” was among the groups assembling in Austin. The organization sent a busload of abortion opponents to the state capital on Monday, and tweeted a photo of supporters holding signs in opposition to reproductive rights — including several proclaiming “Wendy stands with Gosnell”:
The anti-choice activists are referring to Kermit Gosnell, the illegal abortion provider whose high-profile murder trial recently made national headlines. Abortion opponents have repeatedly attempted to invoke Gosnell’s name to conflate his horrific crimes with all legal abortion services — claiming Gosnell proves that abortion is always an inherently violent, bloody, unsafe procedure.
But Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator who gained national recognition after successfully filibustering the abortion restrictions at the end of last month, doesn’t actually endorse policies that align her with Kermit Gosnell. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Opponents have frequently claimed that because Davis has worked to defeat Texas’ proposed abortion restrictions, she’s advocating in favor of late-term abortions. It’s true that the state’s legislation includes a measure to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and it’s true that Davis and her fellow pro-choice activists don’t support that proposal. But Texas’ “fetal pain” measure would actually outlaw abortion before the point of viability (generally understood to be around 24 weeks), which is well before Kermit Gosnell performed his illegal procedures. The abortions performed after 20 weeks in legal Texas clinics — which already represent an extremely small number of procedures — aren’t comparable to Gosnell’s so-called “house of horrors,” despite the fact that the right wing has been attempting to draw that misleading comparison at every turn.
And even though some mainstream media outlets — and virtually every right-wing outlet — have construed the ongoing protests in the Lone Star State as a fight over late-term abortion, that’s not the whole story. The package of abortion restrictions also threatens to close 90 percent of the abortion clinics in Texas, leaving just five clinics in the second largest state in the country. The new clinic regulations won’t actually do anything to make abortion care safer, and the nation’s leading group of OB-GYNs has come out against them. Instead, they will severely limit women’s access to clinics, threatening to effectively ban abortion in the state. And they will disproportionately burden low-income women, who likely won’t be able to afford to travel hundreds of miles to get to a clinic.
If Texas women’s options become so limited, many desperate and economically disadvantaged women may be forced to resort to dangerous measures to terminate a pregnancy. The women who patronized Kermit Gosnell’s illegal Philadelphia-area clinic were driven there out of poverty; many of them likely felt like they had no other choice. Taking away Texas women’s choices will allow future Gosnells to seize the same opportunity to prey on vulnerable women.
That’s why Wendy Davis, and women’s health activists across the country, are actually standing up against Gosnell. They are standing up against the state-level abortion policies that deepen economic disparities and drive women further into poverty. They are standing up against the harsh regulations that threaten to close down clinics and make it impossible for women to access safe, legal reproductive care. They are standing up against the increasing reality that American women can only exercise their constitutional right to an abortion as long as they’re not poor. And they’re ultimately working to ensure that the United States remains a country where women aren’t dying from lack of unsafe abortion care, as thousands of women do around the world — and as some women did right here at home, in Gosnell’s unsanitary clinic.