The media could not get enough of Wendy Davis. The Texas state senator who filibustered a bill restricting abortion was described by CNN as a “national phenomenon.”
Davis was also celebrated on social media, with President Barack Obama’s official Twitter account leading the charge: “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”
We learned about Davis’ running shoes and back brace. We learned about her undeniably compelling journey from teen mother to Harvard Law graduate. We learned about her stamina and bladder control.
But what we heard rather less about was the fact that Davis was blocking an abortion bill less restrictive than the law in many European countries, among other things banning the procedure from being performed on fetuses after 20 weeks.
The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack did a helpful rundown of the questions Davis was asked during her whirlwind media tour. Very few of them had anything to do with the substance of the policy she was protesting.
“How are you even awake today?” CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked. “What was it like standing for that long?”
“Why did you decide to wear your running shoes?” asked ABC’s Jeff Zeleny in his penetrating interview. “Let’s take a look at those … they’ve kind of been rocketing around the Internet.”
Nobody asked Davis the obvious question McCormack himself once posed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: What’s the difference between abortions this late in the pregnancy and the crimes for which the disgraced Kermit Gosnell faces life in prison?
Pelosi, for the record, had no good answer.
At least some of Davis’ Sunday talk show interlocutors had the integrity to point about that the bill she was blocking wasn’t that extreme, according to public opinion.
In fact, a new Huffington Post poll found Americans supported a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks, by a margin of 59 percent to 30 percent. More strikingly, 70 percent of those who were conflicted about abortion generally said they would support such a law.
A somewhat more argumentatively worded National Journal poll found that women backed this late-term abortion ban by a bigger plurality than men.
This mirrors the 1990s debate over partial-birth abortion, which divided even pro-choice politicians. Then New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said the grisly abortion method was too close to infanticide. The late Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci used to note that he was pro-choice except for partial-birth abortion.
“That proced-jah,” he would say, “goes too fahh.”
Elective late-term abortions are to pro-choice Democrats as the rape exception is to pro-life Republicans. The 2012 election cycle was filled with reports of GOP candidate saying dumb things about abortion and rape, with Todd Akin’s musings about “legitimate rape” constituting the most famous example.
But the media asks pro-life candidates like Akin about hard cases like rape more often than it asks pro-choice pols like Davis about the abortion of fetuses nearing viability — even when the latter is actually the issue under debate and the former is not.
Media bias is no excuse for pro-life tactical blunders. The gains pro-lifers have made in public opinion have been steady but fragile. Consider the sudden surge in pro-choice sentiment captured by polling as John Roberts was being nominated to the Supreme Court — a pick activists said would threaten Roe v. Wade.
Years later, some polls recorded an uptick in support for the pro-choice position post-Akin, as Roe turned 40.
These fluctuations suggest that it matters a great deal how the two sides of the abortion debate present themselves — and how abortion-related questions are asked in the first place.
Piercing the fog of media obfuscation, Wendy Davis is as extreme on abortion as Todd Akin, however much more effective a communicator she is. According to Gallup, 64 percent of the American people want abortion to be generally illegal in the second trimester. That number rises to 80 percent in the third trimester.
Let others stand with Wendy — and stand with the 14 percent.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the recently released book “Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?“ Follow him on Twitter.