Mansplaining the Mansplainer: Rick Perry's Accidental Abortion Honesty

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 27 2013 1:48 PM

Mansplaining the Mansplainer: Rick Perry's Accidental Abortion Honesty

167978585
Texas Gov. Rick Perry thought he was complimenting state Sen. Wendy Davis, but that's not how half of Twitter took it.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The National Right to Life Convention happened to take place in Dallas this year. Gov. Rick Perry happened to be recuperating from a special legislative session where a push for a broadly drawn abortion-limiting bill had been brought down by pro-choice activists and Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster. So he talked about that.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

She was the daughter of single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. 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.
Advertisement

Cue the controversy. Davis has condemned Perry, as has half of Twitter, for the crime of Mansplaining. It's actually pretty clear what Perry meant—he was riffing, by the way, not using prepared remarks—and that he thought he was paying a high compliment. But he revealed much more than he meant to.

First, what he meant. Wendy Davis was indeed a single mother at age 19, something she's told voters as she's campaigned for election and re-election. She went to community college and eventually worked her way to Harvard Law. All true, very inspiring. Perry's not attacking her lifestyle, not in his mind.

But he's stepping on his own message about the abortion bill. In the same speech, he promised that Texas "will ban abortion after 20 weeks." That's smart—abortion bans after 20 weeks are very popular. According to Gallup, 61 percent of Americans are OK with legal abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but the support falls to 27 percent for abortions in the second 12 weeks. Abortions after 24 weeks (excepting medical emergencies) are flat-out illegal. The Texas bill fits snugly into the penumbra, promising voters that the abortions that will be banned are those that take place when the fetus becomes viable outside the womb.

Those abortions represent a sliver of all abortions. Actually, around 88 percent of all abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. And we know what the circumstances are in most of these cases. Women discover that they've gotten pregnant, and quickly get abortions. Like it or not, society tolerates that. It doesn't like to talk about it, but it's aware that young women get pregnant by accident and terminate the pregnancies before they have to think about altering their lives by bringing in a new one.

In theory, the Texas bill wouldn't affect this. Right? Well, no—the bill would impose new standards on abortion clinics that, by general agreement, would shut down all but five of the 42 clinics operating in the state. Right now a woman who gets pregnant in Midland or Lubbock is fairly close to a clinic. Change the standards, and she's at least 200 miles away from the clinic. And it's not like those clinics only perform abortions.

Texas is a pro-life state, and Perry probably doesn't need to soft-talk the clinic restrictions in order to pass his bill. But the fact is that a bill that "bans abortion after 20 weeks" sounds better than a bill that "makes it harder for women to get abortions, even if they're three or four weeks pregnant." Perry said too much.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.