Thursday, January 13, 2005

My punditry on Democrats and abortion

We do get hammered on this issue by pro-lifers. On the flip side, pro-choicers have become one of the pillars of our party. However, we have the chance to reach out to pro-life voters more than Republicans have the chance to reach out to pro-choicers.

I think Clinton did it fairly well. I'm echoing the Tribune's editorial from a week ago or so, but we would be wise to frame out goal for abortion as "safe, legal *and rare*"

That rare part is a bit contentious for pro-choice advocates, but I think that's the better framing for Democrats.

Pro-choice advocates don't want to introduce the concept of a restricted right that ought be exercised rarely. Hence, the T-shirt that reads "I had an abortion" which sends the message that there is nothing shameful about an abortion. Because life begins sometime after the abortion, there is nothing to mourn over from a first-term abortion. Just as we aren't ashamed or sad about getting tonsils removed, so too (the pro-choice advocates argue) there is nothing sad or shameful or even ambivalent about an abortion.

That's a minority opinion, I'd suggest.

You could feel some momentum drip out of Kerry during the town hall debate when the younger white woman said something like "I'm pro-life. Senator Kerry, what would you tell someone who is thinking of voting for you, but has a moral obligation to protect life?" and Kerry basically said "I can't tell you how much I respect your opinion. . . . . I'm Catholic. . . I was an altar boy. . .but I'm for abotion. Sorry! But I really respect your faith."

Which clearly doesn't cut it.

What we should be saying is: if you vote for a Democratic government, there will be fewer abortions performed than if you vote for a Republican government.

Here's my source for that claim. If anyone's got better data, please send it my way.

So if it is true that Democratic governments end up with fewer abortions than Republican governments, then I'd suggest we Democrats should be happy with calling for abortions to be rare, as it's hard to make a pro-life argument for voting for the party that produces more abortions.

We need more pro-life votes. And if that data is true, then we deserve them.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dan -- The data are messy and incomplete. Here's a chart from the pro-choice Alan Guttmacher Institute, whose data only goes up until 2000. See page 2 -- http://www.agi-usa.org/presentations/trends.pdf. The decline began in 1989, right when the economy was tanking (much worse than it did in 2001/2002. So that posited correllation doesn't hold, at least on the surface. We just don't have much data since 2000 yet.

Incidentally, consider how George W. Bush reacted when a reporter in 2000 told him that abortions had consistently declined in Texas during his governorship.... "Well, I'm sure it's not because of anything we did." As Mr. Roach once said, "Must we be as dull as medieval peasants, blaming our misfortunes and crediting our gains to the King?"

Duff

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Thanks Duff. But Mr. Roach's comment is a bit of a dodge, wouldn't you say? Government policies certainly affect lots of things, and if campaigns are run on abortion (at least to a quarter or a third of the electorate), then the driving factor in pro-life votes ought to be which government sets the conditions for the least amount of abortions. Fair enough on that last point?

Anonymous said...

Sure, if you can show causation. But the data (showing declines beginning in 1989) suggest so far that you can't even show correllation.

Daniel said...

It doesn't matter to anti-choice voters if there are fewer abortions under Republicans or Democratic. Anti-choice voters want to make it illegal and end the practice, no compromise. Therefore to quibble over a drop from (ex.) 200,000 to 180,000 a year is irrelevant in their worldview.

However the emotional argument on values does resonate with them. Therefore, they will continue to vote for the anti-choice candidate who strongly affirms their view on the abortion issue.

I would take issue on your representation of Kerry’s language and position on abortion. Multiple times, I heard him use the language of "safe, legal and rare" lifted right out of the Clinton playbook. He may have prefaced it with what was essentially an argument that the President’s job was not to impose his personal religious views on others, but he often spoke of a hope to make abortion infrequent.

Anonymous said...

D, in defense of Kerry, I thought his response was fantastic. I think you mischaracterized it. It was more that he is a catholic alter boy and personally opposes abortion, but as a citizen of this country and as president, he could never impose a moral belief founded in religious principles on others. I think we should stick to that as our mantra. It is not the role of government to impose one group's morality on others. The governemnt has an obligation to protect the privacy and decision making of individuals, not life/consiousness in pure potential form, no matter how much our moral inclinations tell us otherwise. Again, I'm not sure anything but addressing capitalist alienation and the symptomatic hypersexuality of our culture is going to make abortions rarer. And your argument has a problem insofar as if certain republicans get their way there would be no abortions anywhere.

Anonymous said...

(duff)

Dan -- playing off what Daniel above said, you would have to have a candidate who genuinely understood the moral claims of anti-abortion voters if those voters will be reached. But if you did (and Kerry wasn't your guy here), then showing that you were reducing the #s could be helpful. You'll reach some people.

Friend of FPL said...

Chiming in: From here, it looks like Democrats work hard to frame abortion in "safe, legal and rare" terms. This is an image problem, where the media and opposition campaigns impute the arguments of radical abortion activists to any pro-choice candidate. Kerry repeatedly framed the issue (almost perfectly) as a matter of not imposing religious convictions, but everyone assumed that he held the default "Democratic" position and was merely playing for votes. I don't know how to fix that.

But how many voters are at stake? I figured the public was divided into single issue voters on either side and the exhausted don't-cares.

That said, I do like the possibility of appealing to faith-oriented (or I-love-my-America) voters with a vision of compassion in taxes and social policy and a private affirmation of pro-life beliefs. Maybe even go so far as to call abortion a public dilemma where any resolution has moral costs.

Anonymous said...

(duff)

Look, you simply cannot seek support from NARAL, NOW, and Planned Parenthood and then start talking about being an altar boy. The 60% of Americans who wish we had greater restrictions on abortion just won't buy it. That's what happened to Kerry; his focus-group-tested language wasn't credible. If you have a candidate who has never sought that kind of support, even if his wife has, you have a different story....

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

I confess I wasn't paying much attention to Kerry's language on abortion during the campaign and only zeroed in on his talk during the debate. I certainly didn't get the "and rare" sense at the debate, and thought that was the one question where Bush looked better than Kerry with his unequivocal "culture of life" answer. The frustrating thing is that the Dem should be able to claim the moral high ground on "culture of life" concerns by showing that fewer abortions are performed under Dems than under Republicans. (I'm surprised we don't have more data yet from 2001 or 2002. How long does it take?) And I do think that it is easier to meet the pro-life concerns by showing that Dems do a better job than Republicans (fewer abortions performed) than, essentially, making the case for a secular government (which is my reading of Kerry's response).

Stephen said...

Nice analysis of the tipping point between pro-choice and pro-life. I suspect the source you cite is correct when he points out the impact of economic influences on a decision to abort. It's always easier to do the right thing when you have economic resources to support it. But your suggestion of spinning this into a campaign slogan contributes to further distrust of Democrats primarily because it reinforces the pro-choice perception that abortion is not a moral issue, but a utilitarian one.

If Democrats are sincere in a desire to move toward a policy of "rare" abortions, why not advocate federal spending for abstinence education, mandatory counseling for unwed mothers, parent notification for minors, improved adoption policies, etc? Why not move boldly into the breach and advocate that a mother's decision to abort a child should be made jointly with the father? If Democrats came out with strong proposals along these lines, they would gain a lot more support in the general election than they'd lose. But could they ever emerge from a Democrat primary?

Anonymous said...

(duff)

Stephen -- problem is that the data don't back up DJW's claim insofar as the recession of 1990/1991/1992 featured the first big drops in abortions. Look at the chart I linked in the first comment above.

DJW -- don't know why the Alan Guttmacher Institute data isn't out yet. They're a hard core pro-choice group but reasonably well respected on the right for their data. Everything after 2000 is an estimate. (I don't know the reliability of the 3-4 states' data your underlying article cited.) Also, I just don't think you'll get anywhere if your candidates are seeking the radicals groups' support, as noted above. (Radical defined as abortion-on-demand -- a position supported by approx. 17-20% of Americans.)

Anonymous said...

Dan, you have become: pragmatist. Gasp! secular government? Are you running for office soon?

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Father approval of abortions? Are you kidding? Allow a law where another person has a say in someone's physical autonomy? Oh well. i guess Kant, Rawls and Mill all must have been way off in formulating their philosphy of ethics.

Abstinence education? What is that? Lying to kids about what sex is what diseases are and what contraception is? Aids through tears? Sex Ed is done in a scientific and informative manner. It doen't encourage sexual behavior. And there is nothing that prohibits a discussion of both the physical and spiritual risks of being sexual too early I had one. Abstinence "education," as far as I can tell, is taking conservative Christian values and imposing them on children. Keeping people ignorant a fearful of sex, and filling them full of shame is not what Jesus meant by humility, respect and love. I'm no pro-sex moral relativist, but I'm pro knowledge and abstinence education is nothing but thinly veiled christian propoganda. Being taught to feel shame for being sexual is the worst idea ever, and I promise you, unwanted pregnancies would increase.

Stephen said...

If I may politely & briefly reply to an Anonymous response to my earlier comment, I based my comments on an ethical analysis that assumes gender equity. One might adopt a contradictory assumption that sexual politics is a Win/Lose game in which one gender plays an unequivocal submissive, passive role such that a single-gender decision to carry a conception to fruition compensates for a natural imbalance, but in my view, the human reproductive process is designed under natural law as a Win/Win scenario. As long as US law remains at odds with this theoretical natural law, the mis-alignment will push segments of the electorate apart. That's the theory anyway... I suppose only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Well, Stephen, my marxist utopia and your christian one are very similar. I believe in "gender equity" as well, and hope for a world where love and monogamy abound, and children are brought into this world because of mutual decisionmaking. I'm not so bold (or naive) as to think it "natural law" granted by a deity, but that is another issue for you and Hegel to work out. However, throwing the concept of "gender equity" around casually is a bit sloppy, becasue at least in terms of reproductive biology, there is not "gender equity." The issue goes to physical autonomy and the right to do with your body what you please. We live in the real world with need for real laws that cannot possibly conform to each persons view of "natural law." Once you take the irratinal authority with all your God nonsense out of your law you would see more clearly the distinction between ethics and morality, where ethics are binding on others and where your morals are not. I have my morals, but I'm not so bold (or delusional) as to think they should ever interfere with the right of someone to decied to gestate. I would of course hope that one day social norms and ethics conform to my moral sensibilities, but until then there is going to be a lot of necessary compromise. Arguing that one person's notion of "natural law" should be inmopsed on humanity in its current state ("Allright, no homosexuality - 5 years in jail !") is a bit naive and indictaive of someone who is teleoogically challenged, usually by subjugation to irrational authority, like religion. What is the phrase. God is dead, and Access Hollywood has killed him! Its not time to resurrect god my friend, it is time to bring Acess Hollywood to justice, if you catch my drift.

Anonymous said...

Well, Stephen, my marxist utopia and your christian one are very similar. I believe in "gender equity" as well, and hope for a world where love and monogamy abound, and children are brought into this world because of mutual decisionmaking. I'm not so bold (or naive) as to think it "natural law" granted by a deity, but that is another issue for you and Hegel to work out. However, throwing the concept of "gender equity" around casually is a bit sloppy, becasue at least in terms of reproductive biology, there is not "gender equity." The issue goes to physical autonomy and the right to do with your body what you please. We live in the real world with need for real laws that cannot possibly conform to each persons view of "natural law." Once you take the irratinal authority with all your God nonsense out of your law you would see more clearly the distinction between ethics and morality, where ethics are binding on others and where your morals are not. I have my morals, but I'm not so bold (or delusional) as to think they should ever interfere with the right of someone to decied to gestate. I would of course hope that one day social norms and ethics conform to my moral sensibilities, but until then there is going to be a lot of necessary compromise. Arguing that one person's notion of "natural law" should be inmopsed on humanity in its current state ("Allright, no homosexuality - 5 years in jail !") is a bit naive and indictaive of someone who is teleologically challenged, usually by subjugation to irrational authority, like religion. What is the phrase. God is dead, and Access Hollywood has killed him! Its not time to resurrect god my friend, it is time to bring Acess Hollywood to justice, if you catch my drift.

Anonymous said...

Kerry voted against the ban on partial birth abortion. Maybe that's why he got labeled as an abortion extremist. Even Ted Kennedy voted for the ban. Bill Clinton defused the abortion issue with "safe, legal and rare." Look for Hillary to do the same in 2008. It's an obvious fix and the only reason Kerry didn't use it was his 30-year voting record of pro-abortion extremism. The last thing he needed was one more flip-flop charge that also would have enraged his liberal base. I still think abortion is a tougher issue for the GOP than for Dems, assuming the Democratic Party removes its head from its ass and nominates a moderate in 2008. -- CF