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Did Wendy Davis flip flop on a 20-week abortion ban?

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis to the media during a news conference at the Austin Community College Rio Grande Campus in Austin, Texas, on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Deborah Cannon)


Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who spent weeks on clean-up duty over discrepancies in her biography,  is back at it. This time the Texas state senator is fending off criticism that she’s changed her position on a 20-week abortion ban.  The 20-week ban and other abortion restrictions were the subject of the marathon filibuster in June 2013 that catapulted her to a level of national fame rarely seen for local officials.

In an interview this week with the Dallas Morning News she said this about the ban:

“I would have and could have voted to allow that to go through, if I felt like we had tightly defined the ability for a woman and a doctor to be making this decision together and not have the Legislature get too deep in the weeds of how we would describe when that was appropriate.”

And that comment was interpreted by some as a shift, sparking hand-wringing from some supporters and this headline on Wendy Davis backs limited late-term abortion ban, despite historic filibuster.

And from Bustle: “Huh? Wendy Davis Backs 20-Week Abortion Ban.”

“It’s been a week of flips and turns that would win Senator Davis a gold medal in Sochi,” said Matt Hirsch, communications director for Republican Greg Abbott’s campaign for governor.

But is this a shift from where she was in June 0f 2013?

It’s worth looking at this passage from the full transcript:

“Number one, and most importantly, from our medical community we’ve heard the concern that this interferes with the practice of medicine. As important, we know that concerns have been raised that this ban interferes with a woman’s health care decision before she and her doctor may have important health information about her own health and the health of the pregnancy.

The ban will have devastating consequences when a woman is experiencing medical complications. And unfortunately, it bans abortion before a woman may receive important information about her own health and the health of her pregnancy. Fewer than 2% of abortions occur after 20 weeks, and while they are uncommon, it is important that a woman and her doctor have every medical option available.”

In an interview with the Austin American Statesman, she clarified a bit more with this:

“I have 100 percent been in the place I’ve always been on this issue. That a women and her doctor are the ones who are best positioned to make a decision.”

Davis’s position seems to be that she supports a 20-week ban, except when doctors and women don’t want it be a ban — which is no ban at all. In politics, there isn’t much room for such nuance.

The good news for Davis so far is that abortion rights groups haven’t blinked at her recent statements. She The People reached out to two big Davis backers, who still say they support her struggling campaign.

“Wendy Davis has been a consistent champion for Texas women and families –- and that stands in stark contrast to her opponent,” said Jess McIntosh, EMILY’s List’s communications director. “It’s absolutely critical that we continue to tell voters about the difference in priorities here – Abbott’s agenda is shockingly regressive for Texas women.”

And from Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America e-mailed this statement:

“Wendy Davis is a champion for women, and all Texans. Her historic filibuster put anti-choice politicians in Texas, and across the country, on notice that we’re not going to let decisions about our health care be a political football. We believe that decisions around abortion care should be made between a woman and her doctor, and not by politicians. Electing Wendy Davis as the next Governor of Texas will help advance this cause.”

As long as Davis can continue to draw support and attention from national progressives and the big groups that are backing her now she will continue to be able to raise money.  But her candidacy is still a long shot, operating on a wing and a progressive prayer in staunchly conservative Texas.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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