The 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, like several others before, marks an annual clash between those who support abortions and those who do not. Issues of life are very important, and the abortion issue very literally is a matter of life and death – the whole debate should center on the origin point of life and what rights are extended to whom and when. In moments of calm, good people on both sides should be able to rationally debate those points. (Those moments of calm tend to be fleeting.)
Here’s another point, separate from the abortion debate: from a legal perspective, the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade is a really bad decision.
A couple years back, the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney memorialized the Roe anniversary with a litany of quotes from pro-choice legal scholars who recognized Justice’s Blackmun’s opinion as, in the words of Michael Kinsley, “constitutional origami… a muddle of bad reasoning and an authentic example of judicial overreaching.”
Read the opinion, and really think about it. Blackmun – not a doctor, by the way – reasons that dividing pregnancy into trimesters is the best way to handle the issue of conflicting rights. One man wrote that opinion, even if he fielded input from others, and that opinion is now the legal definition of when life starts.
Let’s just think about that idea of a judge, sitting in his office in Washington, D.C., deciding that whatever is in his head will be the law of the land. The absolutism of it recalls that Twilight Zone episode where “The State” deems Rocky’s trainer obsolete (and sentences him to death) for being a librarian.
It’s not the only example of an absolutely ridiculous Supreme Court decision, but it’s the only one whose anniversary is marked every year.
Rep. Bart Stupak has been the object of derision and scorn since he famously flipped his health care vote. Because of that, his seat has been a big part of the electoral calculus for this fall’s Congressional elections – and despite his retirement, it still is.
Nationally, Democrats were able to win the debate on health care, thanks in large part to Stupak. His last-second flip gave cover to other pro-life Democrats to support the bill – and he pulled enough votes with him that other Democrats in conservative districts, like Heath Shuler, could continue to oppose the bill. (Shuler was promptly replaced by Donovan McNabb.)
As such a key figure, Stupak might as well have drawn a giant bullseye on his back. But it was a national bullseye, as a friend of Stupak told Politico:
The friend said he believes Stupak would have won, adding: “More than 95 percent of the opposition from left and right has come from outside of his district.”
And Republicans have rallied around surgeon Dan Benishek, a tea party favorite, who received very little attention until Stupak voted for the health care legislation even without the anti-abortion language in the bill . Benishek is expected to raise more than $100,000 this quarter, according to GOP sources, a large amount for a first-time candidate who had virtually no campaign infrastructure before Stupak received national attention over his health care positioning.
That outside support from national conservative and pro-life donors figures to dry up slightly without Stupak as a bogeyman – but it isn’t going away. That money and support will find its way into Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s district, or Rep. Steve Dreihaus’s, or into Indiana where Rep. Brad Ellsworth is looking to replace Evan Bayh.
While he was running, Stupak was a lightning rod; even if he lost his race he would at least soak up resources. Like he did a few weeks ago, he would have run interference for his fellow Democrats. Other Democrats in tough races may find themselves touched by the ripples of his retirement.
Last weekend I spoke to Students for Life, a college pro-life group, about media and public relations. One thing we discussed is how most people don’t like to deal with the issue of abortion because it forces judgments on the beginning of life and competing rights (mother vs. child) – and that most people simply don’t want any part of it. In a post from yesterday afternoon, the Atlantic’s Daniel Indiviglio doesn’t take a stance on the debate itself, but highlights the questions public health care necessarily must face. For instance, would more or fewer abortions help the bottom line for a public health care plan? Is it better to have a younger, stronger populace that needs less health care, or by keeping a lid on population numbers do abortions save money in the long term? Should women whose pre-natal babies have diseases be urged to abort children who will cause a drain on the health care system?
These are chilling questions that no one wants to even ask, let alone answer. Pro-choice advocates who claim government has no place dictating whether a woman can terminate her baby’s development should be standing with pro-life forces who don’t want their tax dollars to fund what they feel is a violation of an individual’s right to life. Neither side will be happy with greater regulatory involvement, which may be the first thing these camps have ever agreed upon.
Incredibly, this morning’s top story was President Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame. The appearance stoked controversy over the issue of abortion, but of course despite some protests and counter-protests nothing was resolved.
The President and his speechwriting team, however, handled the issue well. He wisely mentioned it in his speech, rather than trying to avoid or marginalize his opposition. And, despite calling for civil debate, admitted that there are deep philosophical issues between the sides. The biggest acknowledgment of this was the President’s support of provisions which would allow doctors to refuse procedures they find morally objectionable – and something the more radical wings of the pro-abortion movement rail against.
It’s a smart move, politically. Recent Gallup poll results that have shown that, despite a continuing tolerance for abortion rights, the American people are identifying more and more as pro-life. In other words, the pro-life’s strategy of educating the public, organizing campuses, and talking about a “culture of life” over the past 15 years has paid dividends, and politicians can no longer use buzzwords like “abortion on demand” without appearing radical.
The issue will come up again as the drama surrounding President Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination unfolds, and the road map for a middle ground is set: Deflect debate over the legality of abortion by discussing social measures to reduce abortion.
There is, however, a flaw in this logic should be the next rhetorical conquest for the pro-life movement: that social measures which reduce abortions suggest that abortions are bad. If they are considered bad, there must be a reason why – and that may be the next question President Obama has to answer in a “civilized debate.”
Two days after D.C. hosted an inaugural crowd on over a million people, Your Nation’s Capital is the scene for the annual March for Life. The pro-life organizers have invited the President to speak despite his pro-choice stance, but unlike his predecessor it appears President Obama will not address the estimated 200,000 pro-life activists – not even with a pre-recorded message, as George W. Bush did. It would be a missed opportunity.
President Obama has spoken about reaching across the aisle and even went to George Will’s house for a dinner with conservative columnists. Reaching out to inside-the-beltway Republican voices is one thing, but the March for Life gives the President a conduit to grassroots conservative activists – and even more significant, grassroots activists who are concerned about abortion, which is by far the most charged issue in American politics today.
But if there was ever a week when Americans wanted to find common ground, this is it. A short, pre-recorded, honest speech could candidly recognize vast differences between the President and the pro-life movement while identifying common goals and recognizing activists for their energy and efforts. This type of outreach would signal his acceptance of the diversity of opinions on issues – and could partially deflate one potential wedge issue for Republicans to use in trying to pick up the pieces of their base.
On the other hand, as RealClearPolitics notes, President Obama may be more concerned with getting in with opinion leaders, the “intellectual establishment” of both parties. If George Will and William Kristol aren’t writing columns railing against President Obama’s policies, perhaps he doesn’t need the 200,000 people out on the Mall today.