Gov. Rick Perry hit back Thursday at the star of a Democratic filibuster that killed tough new Texas abortion restrictions, saying state Sen. Wendy Davis’ rise from a tough upbringing should have taught her the value of each human life.
Davis, a former teenage mom who graduated from Harvard Law School, responded that Perry’s comment was “without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds.”
Before the white-hot battle over abortion in the second-largest state turned personal, the Fort Worth Democrat staged a marathon filibuster Tuesday that helped defeat an omnibus bill further limiting abortion in a state where it’s already difficult to undergo them. But Perry called lawmakers back for a second special session next week to try and finish the job.
“Who are we to say that children born in the worst of circumstances can’t lead successful lives?” Perry asked in a speech to nearly 1,000 delegates at the National Right to Life Conference in suburban Dallas. “Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances.”
Davis, now 50, started working at age 14 to help support a household of her single mother and three siblings. By 19, she was married and divorced with a child of her own, but she eventually graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and won her Senate seat in an upset.
Perry pointed out that personal history in his speech, adding “it’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.”
In comments to reporters after his speech, he went even further.
“I’m proud that she’s been able to take advantage of her intellect and her hard work, but she didn’t come from particularly good circumstances,” the governor said. “What if her mom had said, ‘I just can’t do this. I don’t want to do this.’ At that particular point in time I think it becomes very personal.”
Davis quickly fired off an email response blasting Perry’s comments.
“They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view,” she said. “Our governor should reflect our Texas values. Sadly, Gov. Perry fails that test.”
Davis’ supporters argued Perry never would have made such suggestions to a male politician.
“Rick Perry’s remarks are incredibly condescending and insulting to women,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said in a statement. “This is exactly why the vast majority of Texans believe that politicians shouldn’t be involved in a woman’s personal health care decisions.”
With a second special session now beginning Monday, Perry has vowed to pass a measure similar to the one that failed. Besides the 20-week ban, it would force many clinics that perform abortions to upgrade their facilities to be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors also would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Opponents say such upgrades are so expensive that only five of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics would remain in operation.
Abortion rights groups have promised to respond with more protests, including one scheduled Monday for the state Capitol. Perry too called those who oppose abortion to action, telling the conference, “The world has seen images of pro-abortion activists screaming, cheering. Going forward, we have to match their intensity.”
Adding intrigue to his grudge match with Davis is the fact that Perry had been expected to announce this week if he will seek a fourth full term in office next year. But he said Thursday that announcement will now be delayed until lawmakers can finish the extra work he’s given them.
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