By now we all know that Wendy Davis, hero of the Texas Senate and toast of Twitter, became a mother at age nineteen. In fact, one of the earlier Associated Press pieces that the New York Times published on the filibuster was headlined “Ex-Teen Mom Heads Filibuster Versus Abortion Limit” (whether due to updates, awkward construction, or over-simplicity, the headline has since been changed).
As an advocate for young parents, I was thrilled to learn this somewhere around hour 8 of Davis’s filibuster. Not only does this detail make her personal narrative very compelling, but it means that — while we live in a world that shames young parents and implies they can’t change the world — Davis stands as a powerful counterexample from the top of her raised fist to the bottom of her pink running shoes (which, by the way, are described on Amazon as “Rouge Red” and reviewed as “guaranteed to outrun patriarchy”). While I’m sure Davis is a motivation to many people with widely varying life stories, I hope she’ll be a particular inspiration to young mothers, demonstrating that their futures are not limited because they have children.
There is, of course, an alternate way to spin this part of Davis’s biography, and leave it to Rick Perry to deliver it. Perry stated:
It is just unfortunate that [Davis] 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.
Perry can’t comprehend why Davis would be pro-choice, it seems, because she chose to become a mother after (what he’s assuming was) an unplanned pregnancy at a younger age. (He’s also setting up a false dichotomy between women who get abortions and women who become mothers, ignoring the fact that most women who get abortions are already mothers, and an even greater majority intend to become mothers at some point in their lives.)
The obvious thing that he’s failing to realize, of course, is that pro-choice is pro-choice, and making your choice doesn’t mean you think others should be denied the same options. But the more subtle point is that Davis made a stigmatized reproductive choice, and that having done so likely better equips her to understand the value of destigmatizing and making accessible all reproductive options. There’s often a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” option for pregnant teens: do they want to be shamed for getting an abortion, or shamed for being a young mom? This may be why many young mothers are pro-choice: because they were young parents.
Look at Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood and another Texas teen mom, or Lauren Bruce, founder of Feministe, or Andy Kopsa, writer for RH Reality Check, or Gloria Malone and Natasha Vianna, both activists helping lead the #NoTeenShame campaign against stigmatizing teen pregnancy prevention ads. And, lest we forget, there’s our own Sophia blogging here at Abortion Gang.
Rick Perry might find it incongruous for a former young mom, whom he views as “choosing life” under less-than-ideal circumstances, to stand for thirteen hours against a bill to gut abortion access — but I see it as an intuitive political response to her own life story. And I see young mothers not just participating in our reproductive justice movement, but helping to lead it.