Three years ago, almost to the day, Wendy Davis filibustered for 13 hours against a piece of Texas legislation designed to drastically reduce access to abortion in the state, especially for Texas’ most vulnerable individuals.
Despite Davis’ efforts, and the national attention she brought to the issue, the bill ended up passing during a special session of the state legislature, and a nasty and prolonged legal battle ensued. We saw the culmination of that battle this morning, when the Supreme Court issued a decision in favor of the Texas abortion provider that was fighting to keep its doors — and the doors of other clinics that have been forced to close under HB 2 — open in the state.
Davis, who recently launched a women’s-rights nonprofit, talked to Rolling Stone shortly after the decision came down about how it feels to finally get some good news in the realm of reproductive rights, her hopes and fears about the upcoming election and why she’s hopeful for the future of gender equality.
How does this moment feel?
So gratifying. I truly believed this day would come, but even in the face of that optimism, to have it be a reality is pretty remarkable.
Do you feel vindicated?
I do. Not for me, but for the women who are going to be protected by virtue of the Court’s decision today, not just in Texas, but around the country. An opinion against us would have surely led to copycat laws, and more and more women losing access to vital health care.
There are still many hurdles to jump in the fight for full reproductive freedom. Where do you think we’re headed from here?
I’m very hopeful. If we’d had a more neutral decision from the Court, I might not be saying that, but this was a decisive opinion. Justice Kennedy, who could’ve taken a much more watered-down approach, joined the majority in this case — even he was very assertive in his understanding that this law was created as a sham attempt to close down women’s access to safe and legal abortion. The majority of the justices saw through that sham: the characterization that these laws were created to protect women’s health, when nowhere in this process was a single legislator able to point to any actual data that indicated women would be made safer by this law.
What does the decision mean for women in Texas in particular?
It’s going to take some time for the state’s abortion clinics [that had been shuttered under HB 2] to reopen. But I know there’s a tremendous commitment on the part of health care providers in our state to make sure that happens. What this decision means for Texas women is that their constitutional rights have been protected, it means that they’ve been heard, and it means that legislators will be extremely challenged if they try to move forward with other attempts to foreclose on access to safe and legal abortion, in our state and in this country.
I want to ask you a bit about the election. You’re supporting Hillary Clinton. What are your hopes for her presidency?
I hope more than anything that Hillary is able to unify us. She has an unbelievable record of being the kind of person who rolls her sleeves up and really gets down in the nitty-gritty of what it means to govern. And we need that. We need someone who’s going to pull legislators from both sides of the aisle together and sit down with them and work toward consensus. I know she’s committed to that, and I know the American people desperately want to see us get to a place where we can once again decide to work together.
What about on reproductive rights in particular? So many of these battles play out at the state level. What do you hope she’d be able to do if elected?
Hillary brings with her a full umbrella of policy ideas — and ideals — that understand the challenges and opportunities of what it means to be a woman in America today. As I’ve said quite a lot on the campaign trail for her, we’ve had friends in the White House before, but we’ve never had a champion. With her, we’re going to have someone who brings with her the experience of what it means to be a woman in this country, and her unique perspective and understanding about what needs to happen to optimize our opportunities. She’s going to fight for those things — not just sign them when they come across her desk, but fight for them.
What specific policy changes do you most hope to see?
There’s so much. Just to name a few of the things I’d hope we move forward on: pay equality; an increase in the minimum wage, which of course disproportionately impacts women; access to affordable, quality child care, which holds so many women back from continuing their education or becoming a part of the workforce; continuing to uphold women’s reproductive freedoms and access to the kind of care that Planned Parenthood provides, and keep that care funded; and of course the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which has created a divide in this country that was never intended in the Constitution — our rights should not depend on how much money we have in the bank, and because of Hyde and the inability of women to receive financial support in accessing abortion, we do see a divide.
And what are your darkest fears about what America would look like under President Trump?
I think about the abortion decision today. I think about the affirmative-action decision that came out last week. I think about a decision that didn’t go our way, on immigration. These things paint a very real picture of why this election is so important. Under Donald Trump, we would likely see the kinds of decisions that we’ve seen going our way be unwound. We are likely to see civil rights unwound, we’re likely to see women’s access to reproductive health care unwound, we’re likely to see less and less of welcoming immigrants to this country, and we’re likely to see a country that’s even further divided — and one in which the very worst of us is fomented, rather than the best of us nurtured.
This whole election feels in a way like a battle over gender. How do you see it playing out?
This particular issue is one where we’ve been playing defense. There’s a lot of offense that we need to succeed on. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. If anything, what we’ve been through with the assault on our reproductive freedoms should remind us of how important it is to keep our foot on that gas pedal, to keep us moving down the road toward full equality. Women in this country are not equal in terms of the way we’re treated in the workplace and elsewhere, and it’s going to take the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s going to take some affirmative steps in terms of protecting us in the workplace and elsewhere, to ensure we become the full and equal partners in society that we ought to be.
You indicated in your interview with me last fall that you hope to run for office again. Any additional thoughts on that?
Not really. As I said, I would be honored to have the opportunity to serve in office again one day, but I feel very fulfilled right now in the work that I’m doing and the opportunity to help more young women learn the value of their voice and their participation in politics.
How are you planning to celebrate today?
I’m definitely planning to pop a cork when the day is done! And I’ll say a prayer of thanks to a God I believe in, who I believe supports us as individuals and gives us the strength and the fortitude to push forward when the stakes are high and the deck seems to be stacked against us. This reassures my faith in people, and our ability to put our heads down and fight against injustice.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.