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Wendy Davis talks abortion rights, value of empathy

Texas state senator known for 2013 filibuster discusses life story, future of reproductive justice

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-TX, began her speech at a reproductive justice event Saturday afternoon with an impassioned message about personal stories and the “power of empathy” to break down political barriers. Following her own advice, Davis, who first came to national attention in 2013 for her 13-hour filibuster of a bill that sought to limit access to abortions in Texas, shared her experiences with the Brown community.

The NARAL Pro-Choice Brown University and the University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union brought the politician and former candidate for Texas governor to the Friedman Auditorium to mark the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the supreme court decision that struck down laws restricting access to abortion.

President Donald Trump recently criticized Roe v. Wade at the March for Life earlier in January, and since becoming a Republican candidate has self-identified as “pro-life.”

“Wendy Davis was a perfect person" for the event due to her experience as state senator "in a state that’s also anti-choice,” said Camille Di Bella ’19, president of Brown NARAL. According to Di Bella, the event was important because “most people probably don’t realize that Rhode Island is very anti-choice. It’s on the bottom rung in terms of access to reproductive healthcare.”

Davis began her speech with an anecdote about her grandmother’s life as a low-income, uneducated wife of a tenant farmer. She then proceeded to track her lineage through the shoes worn by the women in her family. Her emphasis on shoes stems directly from the fact that shoes have played a pivotal role in her own life: During her famous filibuster, she wore pink running shoes that have grown to symbolize her fight for reproductive rights.

Davis then went on to talk about her early life. She worked through community college as a teenage mother, eventually going on to receive honors as a graduate of Harvard Law School. “At the time, I worked two jobs, and I divorced not long after (my daughter) came into our lives,” she said. “Those years living on my own and trying to dig us out of poverty were some of the toughest I have ever known.”

Talking about national issues surrounding reproductive rights for women, Davis warned that lawmakers were now proposing “some of the most far-reaching abortion restrictions in a generation,” she said. “Why this assault on women? Why this interest in holding us back? Part of it honestly is the desire to put women back in our place, inhibiting our sexuality,” she added.

Davis fondly recalled the night of her filibuster, when hundreds of Senate spectators chanted and shouted until midnight in her support. Davis was supposed to keep the floor to ensure that the legislative session would end without the bill passing.

“We lived in a state where demoralization can tend to overtake us,” Davis said. “But against that backdrop, for whatever reason, on that day, we showed up. We showed up for something we cared about, for each other, for ourselves, for women we knew and for women we would never personally know.”

Davis said that while the future of reproductive rights in the country may seem bleak, she has faith in the new generation as she “has had faith in no generation before.”

After her speech, Davis spoke with R.I. State Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-RI. They discussed their motivations, the importance of more female representation in legislatures and Davis’ advocacy group, Deeds Not Words, which aims to inspire young women to work on gender equality issues.

Davis then answered questions from the audience. Through her replies, she stressed the importance of intersectionality within the reproductive justice movement and her belief that someone cannot be both pro-life and a feminist.

“I respect that (Davis) took a strong stance in saying that there is no forgivable pro-life feminism,” said Harriet Small ’19, who attended Davis’ lecture. “As a woman, reproductive justice has always been an integral part of my political experience and one of the political causes that I’m most passionate about, so the opportunity to hear someone speak (who) is so steeped in that issue was really amazing.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the Brown National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice America. In fact, the organization is titled NARAL Pro-Choice Brown University. An earlier version of this article also stated that Wendy Davis is a state senator. In fact, she was a state senator. The Herald regrets the errors.

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