Considering A Bid for Governor, Fighting for Women’s Health: Wendy Davis
Davis has fought for pressing women’s health care issues, passing most recently a bill allowing rape victims to track their rape kits through the system.By Jaime Netzer
Wendy Davis can’t help but care passionately about two causes—education and women’s health care because her own personal history led her directly to them. “The nice thing about being in elected office,” Davis says, “is you can’t escape, and you shouldn’t want to escape, the life experiences that brought you there. And you can’t help but view your own personal filter as the way you think things ought to be.”
For Davis, that means fighting for education because of the pathways afforded to her through her own schooling: After becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college, Davis went on to earn a law degree with honors from Harvard Law School. But it also means fighting for women’s access to health care, “because of the opportunity that opened up for me because I could control my own health care and make decisions about my life and my future through health care that equipped me to be successful.”
At eighteen, Davis married. By nineteen, she was divorced, and mother to a young daughter named Amber. Davis relied on Planned Parenthood exclusively to provide her healthcare. “I was a young teenage mother and I understood that that was really all that I could handle in terms of working and my responsibilities to her, and I started going to the Planned Parenthood in Fort Worth,” Davis says. “That’s where I received my family planning care, my contraceptive care. The only health screenings I received for several years were through that clinic because I was uninsured.”
Because Planned Parenthood allowed a sliding scale payment, Davis paid a nominal amount for these services. “I think I would pay like $12 or $13 for a full exam and for contraception,” Davis says. “So it was a really wonderful resource for me, and I know that if it hadn’t been there I very likely could’ve become the young mother of more than one child, and if that were the case I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunities to get an education and to improve my life that I had.” Because Planned Parenthood changed Davis’ life, she has in turn fought to protect it and to advocate for women’s health care and choice alike, now famously holding a ten-hour long filibuster that temporarily blocked Senate Bill 5, which has created new abortion regulations in Texas, mandating that a doctor who performs abortions has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and forcing clinics to follow the same standards as surgical centers.
“I think that regardless of where people stand on the issue of abortion, everyone can agree that we want to reduce the number of abortions in this country,” Davis says. “I believe the best way to do that is through preventing unplanned pregnancies, and that’s what Planned Parenthood does best. The vast majority of its work takes place in the family planning, well-women, and cancer screening arena, and it’s a shame that they’ve been used really as a political pawn for people’s campaign credentialing and sadly women, and our ability to stop unplanned pregnancies, get hurt in the process.”
Davis has also fought for other pressing women’s health care issues, passing most recently a bill allowing rape victims to track their rape kits through the system. This legislation followed up previous bills passed, the first one dedicating $11 million to relieving the backlog of around 20,000 untested kits across the state of Texas. “The city of Fort Worth had gotten a grant from the federal government to go through their backlog and try to clear it, and when they tested their backlog of kits they were able to solve five unsolved rapes,” Davis says. “That was a pretty profound statement about what the opportunities were if we were able to get those kits tested all over the state.”
Further legislation was passed to help ensure that each hospital in the state was prepared to collect the kits in the first place. Davis became aware of this problem through the Dallas-Morning News, where she read a story about a young woman who was raped. When the woman went to the hospital to get a kit, she was turned away, because the hospital didn’t have the resources. “She became a strong advocate for making sure that all hospitals, regardless of where a woman goes, have the ability and the training to do that. We passed a bill this session working with the Hospital Association to make sure that we are providing them the resources to actually have the trained personnel that they need,” Davis says. “It’s very important that it be collected and maintained appropriately because from an evidentiary standpoint, you have to have a proper chain of custody or the whole case falls apart.”
The young woman came to Austin to testify in support of Davis’ bill. “It was very powerful, very emotional testimony, as you can imagine,” Davis says.
Being a mother also influences Davis’ perspective on women’s health. “For me, it’s about thinking about the future, thinking beyond where I am and what I’ve been able to do, thinking to that next generation and making sure that opportunity is available to them,” she says. “I can’t help but view Texas through the eyes of my own daughters, and the experience that they’re having and the experience I want to see them have. I know that they have possibilities in front of them because they were raised in a situation that allowed and afforded opportunities to them that many girls don’t have—and I want to see everyone have the same opportunity to thrive.”