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Wendy Davis: Tough, cool and wrong

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis was on her feet for 13 hours Tuesday, in a one-woman filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill. (Eric Gay/AP)
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There’s a lot to admire about the celebrated filibusterer Wendy Davis, and her overnight victory over blatant cheaters. Tough, articulate, and with the kind of perseverance we can hardly value highly enough, the Texas state senator showed up and stayed up, remaining on her feet for 13 hours.

Her Republican opponents, meanwhile, behaved both poorly and unintelligently. They ruled that her completely relevant mention of a sonogram law passed last year somehow wasn’t germane to the discussion. (Her point was that restrictions under discussion would be unduly burdensome on top of those already imposed.) Then, they ruled that she had strayed off topic once too often to continue speaking.

As the deadline — the midnight end of the session — approached, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared that he simply wouldn’t continue with the proceedings until abortion rights supporters in the gallery simmered down. Predictably, that announcement guaranteed that the screaming would go on as long as necessary. But he waited until after the session had run out to call a vote, and then declared victory. (Lee Atwater’s advice to ‘play dumb and keep movin’ comes to mind.)

Ultimately, of course, Republicans had to walk that back, at least temporarily conceding defeat. Given that Gov. Rick Perry can (and, update, now has) called another special session to pass the bill anyway, I’m not sure why they were willing to throw out the rule book in front of more than 100,000 viewers on the Texas Tribune’s livefeed.

Still, I have to stand with the cheaters on this one.

Because no matter how many thousands of times abortion rights supporters repeat that the bill’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks is anti-woman — hateful in effect and by design — that’s just the opposite of the way I see it. And it isn’t how a majority of Americans, or American women, see it, either:

In a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll,  Americans said they favor a bill like the Texas measure, 48 percent to 44 percent. More than half of politically unaffiliated Americans — 53 percent — backed such a bill.  And 50 percent of women said they were in favor compared to 46 percent of men.

So are half of women really self-loathing victims of brainwashing by the patriarchy who, according to what I read and hear on cable news shows, also hate sex and our bodies and oppose all contraception? Sorry, but no.

The Texas law is not unlike legislation on the books all over Western Europe, where late-term abortions are rightly considered barbaric — except, of course, in cases of rape, incest, or health risk to the mother.

The Texas bill also imposed new regulations on clinics, and its opponents claim that requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility would force the closure of 37 of the state’s 42 clinics.

Clearly, the case of abortion doctor — and now convicted murderer — Kermit Gosnell changed nothing in America, where it’s commonly accepted that the “woman’s right to choose” should extend even beyond birth. Neither do allegations against the Houston abortion doctor Douglas Karpen seem to have changed hearts and minds on the most intractable issue in American politics. Karpen runs three clinics where ex-employees said they’d witnessed him doing what Gosnell did, killing babies who had been born alive. In Delaware recently, nurses testified that their former employer, Planned Parenthood of Delaware, routinely put women’s health at risk by rushing procedures to maximize profits, using untrained staff, and neglecting medical standards. Yet any desire to regulate this industry can only come from some deep hatred of womankind?

I stubbornly persist in believing that those who disagree with me on abortion also care deeply about women, though those of us who see risks to both women and their unborn children are all but never accorded that same presumption.

What does it mean that so much of the discussion of late-term abortion focuses on the presumed misogyny of those of us — again, the majority of Americans and half of women, according to polling — who believe in limits?

My own answer is that it’s easier to vilify us than to look beyond the sanitized phrase “right to choose,” to the gruesome reality of late-term abortion.