Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator running to replace Rick Perry as governor of Texas, owes her political stardom to two things: a pair of pink sneakers and her unstinting support for a woman's right to terminate a late-term pregnancy in a substandard clinic. Yay Feminism!
Last year, Davis led an 11-hour filibuster -- that's where the sneakers came in handy -- to block legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and require abortion clinics to meet the same standards that hospital-style surgical centers do.
This was all going on against the backdrop of the sensational Kermit Gosnell case in Pennsylvania. Mr. Gosnell ran a bloody, filthy "clinic" where he performed late-term abortions with a barbarity you'd expect to find in a "Saw" movie. Sometimes he'd "snip" the spines of fully delivered babies with a pair of scissors. His instruments were so unsanitary that some women got STDs from them. Cat feces was a common sight on the procedure room floors.
In short, you didn't need to be an abortion-rights activist to find the story of interest, but you'd certainly expect an activist to be up to speed on it.
Working on that theory, The Weekly Standard's John McCormack caught up with Ms. Davis last August to ask her a few questions.
Mr. McCormack noted that once you got past the squalor and filth of the clinic, Mr. Gosnell's illegal late-term abortions weren't all that different from legal late-term abortions in other states. "What is the difference," Mr. McCormack asked, "between legal abortion at 23 weeks and what Gosnell did? Do you see a distinction between those two [acts]?"
"I don't know what happened in the Gosnell case," Ms. Davis replied. "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."
She should have stopped with "I don't what happened in the Gosnell case" -- because in the words of the grand jury report, the "abhorrent conditions and practices inside Mr. Gosnell's clinic [were] directly attributable to the Pennsylvania Health Department's refusal to treat abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical facilities."
So the one thing she claimed to know wasn't true. Also, what curious incuriosity. If you were suddenly a national leader on an issue you felt passionately about, wouldn't you want to know what happened in a case that cuts to the heart of your cause?
Not Ms. Davis. Her time is better spent denouncing the ignorance of women who disagree with her. When McCormack asked what to make of the fact that a majority of American women support a ban on late-term abortions, Ms. Davis responded, "I again think that a lot of people don't really understand the landscape of what's happening in that arena today ..."
Think about that. In the course of a short conversation, she revealed that she didn't know what she was talking about while casually dismissing the majority of American women who disagreed with her as not knowing what they're talking about.
Let's fast-forward to 2014. Ms. Davis was recently interviewed by Jorge Ramos of Fusion TV. He asked her, "When does life start? When does a human being become one?"
Davis answered with a non-answer: "You know, the Supreme Court of course has answered this decision, in terms of what our protections are." Blah blah blah.
Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics slammed Ms. Davis for being "too cowardly to give a straight answer, let alone a thoughtful one, to a straightforward question that goes to the heart of a matter she has made the signature issue of her political life."
I agree. But Ms. Davis is merely at the forefront of the cowardice epidemic. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade earlier this month, President Obama couldn't bring himself to say the word "abortion," preferring instead virtually every poll-tested buzzword. Indeed, in all of the "war on women" noise, abortion is almost always wrapped in the velvety euphemisms of "women's health" and "reproductive choice."
It should tell you something when passionate advocates of unrestricted abortion are so uncomfortable talking about ... abortion.
Perhaps all of the rage abortion extremists aim at their opponents is cover for a deep insecurity -- maybe psychological, definitely political -- about the reality of what they are defending. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) once said that life begins "when you bring your baby home" from the hospital. That is not very far from Wendy Davis' position. But she doesn't want to say that -- certainly not in Texas! Better to change the subject to the evils of her opponents and -- hey -- have you seen my sneakers?
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JonahNRO.