Reacting to news that state Sen. Wendy Davis had two abortions for medical reasons, including one because brain damage was detected in her unborn child, Texas’ leading anti-abortion groups reiterated their opposition to the termination of pregnancies, including ones where severe disabilities can be detected in a fetus.
“We do not favor or advise abortion in cases when the unborn child has disabilities, just as we cannot advocate taking the life of a newly born child who has severe disabilities,” Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said in a statement.
Melissa Conway, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, agreed. “Regardless of how severe or hopeless a diagnosis may be, the dignity of life remains unaltered by disability and disappointment."
"We feel sympathy for Sen. Davis for the loss of the two unborn children," Pojman said.
Davis, who gained national attention because of her 11-hour filibuster in 2013 against proposed abortion restrictions, revealed in her memoir that she had two abortions for medical reasons, including a second trimester termination in 1997 because of brain damage detected in the fetus. The book, Forgetting to Be Afraid, officially goes on sale next week, but The Texas Tribune obtained a copy Friday evening.
Abortion supporters immediately applauded Davis’ candor about her own experience and praised the Democratic nominee for Texas governor.
“Wendy Davis’s personal story resonates with bravery and honesty, and it is one of many,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement. “Every pregnancy is different, and all options must be available to ensure the health and safety of families, without lawmakers making decisions that don’t belong to them.
Davis’ first abortion was performed in 1994 after her doctor told her and her husband at the time, Jeff Davis, that she had an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when an embryo implants outside the uterus and can result in death of the mother.
"The only medical option was to have surgery to terminate the pregnancy and remove the affected fallopian tube — which in Texas is technically considered an abortion, and doctors have to report it as such," Davis wrote in her book.
Conway, with Texas Right to Life, said that in the case of ectopic pregnancies, "the life of the mother must be preserved whenever both lives cannot be saved."
Davis said when she became pregnant in 1997, her doctor said during her second trimester that the fetus had an acute brain abnormality called Dandy-Walker syndrome, a diagnosis used to describe a series of brain malformations that occurs approximately once in every 35,000 live births.
Davis wrote that after their doctor "quieted" the baby, who Davis and her husband had named Tate, she delivered the baby by cesarean section. The next day, she wrote, "we asked an associate minister from our church who was a trusted friend to come and baptize her. We took photographs of her. And we said our goodbyes."
Conway said women who find out before they give birth that their children will be disabled should not abort them.
"Texas Right to Life encourages women facing difficult or unexpected diagnoses to carry their children to term, celebrate the precious baby's life, and, if needed, provide life-sustaining care to the child until he or she reaches the point of natural death,” she said.
The revelations about Davis' two abortions come seven weeks before Davis faces Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the gubernatorial frontrunner and Republican nominee, in the Nov. 4 election.
Abbott expressed his sympathy for the Davis family in a statement Saturday.
"The unspeakable pain of losing a child is beyond tragic for any parent,” Abbott said. “As a father, I grieve for the Davis family and for the loss of life."
Davis’ disclosure also comes at a time when a lawsuit against some of the same restrictions she fought last summer has reached a federal appeals court.
In a lawsuit brought forth by the Center for Reproductive Rights, attorneys representing a coalition of Texas abortion providers seek to block a key provision of House Bill 2 that could shutter all but a few abortion facilities in the state.
The provision would require abortion facilities to meet the same standards as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways and additional infrastructure like pipelines for anesthesia.
The providers’ attorneys have argued that the final provision of HB2 would impose unconstitutional barriers for women seeking the procedure, leaving women in west or south of San Antonio anywhere from 150 to 500 miles away from a Texas abortion facility.
State attorneys contend that the abortion law seeks to protect women’s safety and that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that the abortion law creates an “undue burden” for the majority of Texas women seeking abortions — the standard needed to prove the new rules unconstitutional.
Days before the provision was set to go into effect this month, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of the District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of the abortion providers and struck down the requirement.
The case is set to be heard by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could overturn Yeakel’s ruling, in the coming months.
Pojman, of Texas Alliance for Life, also pointed out that HB 2 would not have prevented either of Davis’ abortions.
“HB 2 does not ban abortions before the fifth month of pregnancy,” he said.