By Richard Elliott
How Senator Wendy Davis’ courage has been met with some sinister responses
Sometimes the news from across the pond falls on deafer ears than news on home issues does. So, when I was informed of June 25th’s spectacle by Wendy Davis, a Democrat Senator for Texas, and her 11 hour long filibuster in opposition to the State Senate Bill 5, I was shocked that this wasn’t the stuff of the front page. The Bill, if passed, “would [have] ban[ned] abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards that hospital-style surgical centers do, and mandate that a doctor who performs abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital” as quoted in the New York Times. In real terms, this would have left a predicted five abortion clinics remaining in the entire state of Texas. Davis, opposing the bill, took advantage of a loophole in the rules of Senate sessions, that if a bill is not passed before midnight, it cannot be legitimized.
The conditions were that her filibuster would have to run the clock out past midnight. She began at 11:18am, and maintained a coherent case against the Bill until well into Tuesday morning, without the privilege of a chair to sit on or anything to lean on, without food, water or sustenance for the duration, and a mandate to keep the filibuster on-topic, or there would be an automatic cancellation of her case. Davis wore a fitted back brace to maintain posture, adorned salmon pink running shoes, and (according to some reports) urinated in a catheter to keep herself composed and focused for her task. Amidst angry screams and heckles from other enraged members of the Session, she succeeded in running out the clock after over eleven hours of filibustering.
Apart from a few mentions in the UK press, Davis’ plight went under the radar. I think this is a great shame. Even if you agree with her cause or not, one thing is beyond debate; the strong conviction she showed in upholding (and indeed holding herself up for) her cause. Davis filled her speech with emotion, humour, and – the most amazing point of all – every single thing she mentioned was completely on-topic, relevant and pungent to the debate. The passion exhibited by Wendy Davis should be an example to all politicians, right or left, both overseas and in the UK.
As it happens, I do agree with Davis and her ethos that women have the right to determine what happens with their own bodies; but that’s just my view. What shocked me was what ensued from Davis’ heroic efforts in the many responses by what are often referred to as ‘militant’ feminists, found all over the blogosphere. Many of these so-called feminists seem to think that it is sensible and righteous to hold the assumption that if you are white, of a straight sexual orientation and happen to possess a penis, your opinion is not valid regarding what you would deem to be just, good and true on a serious ethical issue such as abortion: “you don’t have the capacity to have a child, therefore you get no say”, and so on. This kind of argument repulses me. I assume it can be taken de facto that nobody could feel anything but contempt if, say, someone were to make an argument on a matter of ethics and justice, based upon an inversion of this proposition and say: “oh, her opinion doesn’t matter. She’s a female, she’s black, and she’s gay.” The same logic applies here, and I do not find appeals to relativism to be a get-out-of-jail-free card, either.
This is not to say that being familiarized with a particular subject matter, such as medical information on abortions, may have certain epistemic advantages, as Davis herself humorously quipped during her filibuster, when she said, “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business or go to medical school.” But to say that such a familiarity or knowledge of the subject is ruled out to a particular gender, race or sexual orientation is both prejudiced and absurd. This is not to say that there have not been some sinister responses from white straight males; of course there have been. There may even be a correlation between white straight males and taking an opposing view to that of Wendy Davis. But that doesn’t warrant anyone to argue from the particular to the universal. Plato defined the just individual as someone whose soul is guided by a vision of the Good: true feminists would surely agree with this as a universal statement, regardless of the physical, ‘racial’ and sexual attributes of that individual. Instead, there are many forms of prejudice masquerading as ‘feminist’ arguments which single particular people out of the ethical arena.