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Wendy Davis: 'I don't know what happened in the Gosnell case'

Texas state senator says women who support limit on late-term abortion 'don't really understand' the issue.

4:29 PM, Aug 5, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Texas state senator Wendy Davis spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Monday afternoon about her 13-hour filibuster of a bill limiting late-term abortion, her life story, and her future in politics.

Davis has become a champion for pro-choice activists, but during her recent whirlwind national media tour, she never commented on late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder in May for killing infants moments after they were born.

Following her Press Club speech on Monday, THE WEEKLY STANDARD asked Davis to explain the difference between the late-term abortions that the Texas state senator wants to keep legal and the illegal Gosnell killings.

Davis didn't answer the question. "I don't know what happened in the Gosnell case," she told me.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The supporters of these bans, they argue that there really isn't much of a difference between what happened in that Philadelphia case with abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell [killing born-alive infants] 23 weeks into pregnancy and legal late-term abortions at 23 weeks. What is the difference between those two, between legal abortion at 23 weeks and what Gosnell did? Do you see a distinction between those two [acts]?

SEN. WENDY DAVIS: I don't know what happened in the Gosnell case. But I do know that it happened in an ambulatory surgical center. And in Texas changing our clinics to that standard obviously isn't going to make a difference. The state of the law obviously has to assure that doctors are providing safe procedures for women and that proper oversight by the health and human services department is being given. It sounds as though there was a huge gap in that oversight, and no one can defend that. But that's not the landscape of what's happening in Texas. 

In June, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was similarly unable to explain the difference between the Gosnell murders and late-term abortions. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards ducked the question in July. 

Polls have consistently shown that solid majorities of Americans, including women, support banning most abortions that occur later than 20 weeks after conception.

Asked what she thinks of polls showing women support limiting abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Davis told me that people "don't really understand" the issue. 

During the question-and-answer session following her Press Club speech, Davis was asked what legal limits on abortion she does support.

"The Supreme Court has made that decision, and it's one of the protected liberties under our Constitution, and I respect the Constitutional protections that are in place today," she said.

That was a dodge because the Supreme Court has never established a gestational age-limit on abortion. What the Supreme Court said in Planned Parenthood v. Casey is that states may limit abortions after viability, which the Court said in 1992 occurred at "23 to 24 weeks" into pregnancy. Medical advancements have moved the point of viability up to 22 weeks into pregnancy (20 weeks after conception), the point at which the Texas law and bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would ban most abortions.

Here's the full transcript of Wendy Davis's brief exchange with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, which ended abruptly when Davis turned to talk to another reporter:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Senator, you mentioned in there that you support whatever the federal law is on late-term abortion, but there really isn't a set [federal] policy, it's state-by-state. So is there any week-limit that you could support? If it were two weeks later--

SEN. WENDY DAVIS: You know, those conversations are the kind of conversations that could and should be taking place if we didn't see such extreme positioning. But unfortunately our Republican colleagues weren't interested in having reasonable conversations like that.  

TWS: The supporters of these bans, they argue that there really isn't much of a difference between what happened in that Philadelphia case with abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell [killing born-alive infants] 23 weeks into pregnancy and legal late-term abortions at 23 weeks. What is the difference between those two, between legal abortion at 23 weeks and what Gosnell did? Do you see a distinction between those two [acts]?

DAVIS: I don't know what happened in the Gosnell case. But I do know that it happened in an ambulatory surgical center. And in Texas changing our clinics to that standard obviously isn't going to make a difference. The state of the law obviously has to assure that doctors are providing safe procedures for women and that proper oversight by the health and human services department is being given. It sounds as though there was a huge gap in that oversight, and no one can defend that. But that's not the landscape of what's happening in Texas. 

TWS: What do you make of polls showing that a majority of women support these late-term bans? There have been a few polls--Washington PostHuffington Postdifferent polls--that show women support this. What do you think of those polls?  

DAVIS: I again think that a lot of people don't really understand the landscape of what's happening in that arena today and what an incredibly small percentage of procedures take place there, but, ah...

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