DALLAS — A battle over proposed abortion restrictions in Texas became a personal grudge match Thursday between conservative Republican Gov. Rick Perry and a Democratic state senator whose lengthy, one-woman filibuster catapulted her to sudden, national political stardom.
During a speech to the National Right to Life Conference, Perry singled out state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, saying that her life story proves all children born into difficult circumstances deserve not be aborted.
"She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate," Perry said. "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 afterward, he went even further, saying that he was glad Davis' mother didn't chose to have an abortion.
"What if her mom had said, 'I just can't do this. I don't want to do this,'" Perry said. "At that particular point in time I think it becomes very personal."
Davis shot back in an email statement after Perry's speech: "Rick Perry's statement is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds."
"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 starting working at 14 to help support a household of her single mother and three siblings. By 19, she was already 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.
On Tuesday, Davis' marathon speech and raucous outbursts from abortion rights protesters in the state Senate that kept lawmakers from approving sweeping restrictions that could make abortion all but impossible for many women in the second-largest state.
Those efforts ran out the clock on the midnight deadline Tuesday to pass legislation during a special legislative session Perry called to tackle abortion and other key issues. But on Wednesday, he called a second, 30-day extra session and put tighter abortion rules at the top of the agenda he sets for lawmakers.
The extra session has delayed Perry's expected announcement on whether he will seek a fourth full term as governor in elections next year. Davis is up for re-election then too, but some Democratic activists are urging her to seek the party's gubernatorial nomination.