Last summer Wendy Davis stood for 13 hours, reading stories from Texas women who had been silenced by politicians who thought our experiences didn’t matter. Davis knew that our stories mattered because, collectively, they are the story of Texas – and they deserve to be heard by those who make laws that affect all Texans.
Davis is a woman of unwavering courage. Many of us knew that already – from her years of public service where she has fought every day to create opportunity for Texas women and families, and from her refusal to yield last summer when women’s access to safe and legal abortion was on the line. Throughout her career, Davis has fought for women and families with the same resolve and strength she displayed in sharing her deeply personal decision to have an abortion after learning her much-wanted pregnancy had gone tragically wrong.
After suffering a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, Davis was thrilled to learn she was pregnant once again. Her daughter, Tate Elise Davis, was diagnosed with a severe medical condition making it likely she wouldn't survive to full term or would be in a permanent vegetative state if she survived delivery.
Davis recounts in sorrowful detail how she cradled her daughter’s body in her arms, how a family friend came to baptize her and how the family held a memorial service later at their home to say goodbye. As Davis writes, the experience of losing her daughter caused her to “emerge a different person. Changed. Forever changed.”
Her story is an important and timely reminder for Texas women of exactly why we need Davis as our next governor, and Leticia Van De Putte as our next lieutenant governor.
Davis has always said that she tells her life story not because it is unique but because it is not. Women in public office bring their experiences to their work. They know first-hand a litany of sexist injustices: glass ceilings, pay inequality, sexual harassment and obstructed access to health care, to name just a few. When women wield influence, they are more motivated to level the playing field because they’ve been pushed down, time and again, on that uneven field themselves.
Let’s face it: Women are often more likely to understand what women need. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, summed it up well. In an op-ed last year, she said, “When women are at the table, a broader agenda is discussed, an agenda that looks out for all Americans, particularly those who are voiceless. Women's voices are not better than men's, they're different and the broader perspective that we bring often leads to better results.”
Gillibrand is rightly arguing that diversity in leadership is necessary because we have a diverse population. Women and members of minority groups deserve leaders who intimately understand the discrimination they face on a daily basis.
Of course, a lawmaker does not need to have had an abortion herself to advocate for access to safe and legal abortion. But nearly every woman has worried at some point in her life that she might need an abortion, as three out of 10 U.S. women eventually do.
While no woman should have to justify her decision, abortion later in pregnancy is rare, and is often due to the same sort of tragic and heartbreaking circumstance that Davis experienced — the kind of situation where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.
We are grateful to Davis for sharing her very personal story and shining a light on a subject that is too often hidden in the shadows of shame and stigma. Davis understands that abortion needs to remain a safe and legal procedure for a woman to consider if and when she needs to, and she is running for office to make sure that the next generation of Texas women have the same health care access that she had when she needed it.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011.