Saturday, June 23, 2007

Excellent Advice for the Democrats

In a thought-provoking New York Times op-ed today, Melinda Henneberger has some harsh words for the Democrats on the abortion issue. Henneberger has taken it upon herself to visit 20 states, talking to women on all ages, races, and income levels on this issue. She is now convinced that the female vote ebbed away from Kerry in 2004, not because Bush scared the hell out of them with images of phantom ghoulish terrorists, but because of his stance on abortion. Granted, Henneberger is arguing from anecdote rather than statistics, but I think she might have a point.

She noted that most of these women are instinctive Democrats. They support social spending. They oppose Bush's war. They do not feel at home in the Republican party, but still hold their nose and make the switch. Hennerberger notes that a lot of the problem is attitude. When two-thirds of Americans favor either a complete ban or restrictions on abortions, continuing to couch any attack on "abortion rights" as a line in the sand to be defended at all costs simply sounds extreme, rigid, and out of touch. In fact, she claims the Democrats have helped Karl Rove by consistently exaggerating the threat to Roe v. Wade from the election of Bush, boosting his pro-life credentials substantially. The classic example is the sense of manufactured outage over the Carhart decision on partial birth abortion. Instead of acknowledging it as a narrow decision that does not ban all late-term abortions, Democrats jumped immediately into Chicken Little mode, decrying the end of civilization as we know it. And all this over a procedure that most voters regard (quite rightly) as little different from infanticide.

So what should the Democrats do? I do not expect them to suddenly shift gears and come out in favor of a pro-life constitutional amendment. But I do expect them to show more respect to the pro-life cause, and to the people who view abortion as one of the most important issues in the seamless culture of life. I expect less snarky comments about religious extremists and theocrats. I expect less condescension. But above all, I would like them to acknowledge that the optimal abortion rate is a zero abortion rate, and that policies should be set with such a goal in mind (even if they don't want to criminalize it). The problem is, though, if abortion is a "right", how can too much of it be "wrong"?

The person who said it best is actually Archbishop Chaput, coincidentally in an interview with Melinda Henneberger:
"You can have good Catholics who say that they’re not for the criminalization of abortion, or they want to take gradual steps toward eliminating it by convincing the public that this is a bad thing. Those are all legitimate political positions-as long as you’re really moving towards the goal of protecting unborn human life. You at least have to have the goal."
I fear that unless Clinton and Obama (and the others) start paying attention, they could be in trouble in 2008, despite the plethora of advantages in other policy areas. And they would have only themselves to blame.


Science Goddess said...

This was one of the best even-handed arguments I've read on the abortion issue. If you're as old as I am, you remember that abortion was supposed to be the last choice for women. The mantra was "safe, available are rare" I'd like to see the abortion rate drop as well. We don't place enough emphasis on prevention (see "abstinence only"), adoption and other choices for women. When we say we're "pro-choice" we should be for all the choices, not just abortion.


Antonio Manetti said...

The point of Ms. Steinfels op-ed-piece is to persuade us that the Democrats ought to toss their pro-choice supporters overboard in exchange for the possibility of votes from Catholic women who claim to be so upset by the death and destruction in Iraq that, if it weren't for abortion, they'd vote democratic.

Changing solid support for the prospect of a few extra votes is bad politics. More to the point, it's a betrayal of principle based on a skewed moral calculus in which mitigating the killing, maiming and destruction of persons is less important than one's religious views on abortion rights.

kalle anka said...

It's hard to see why anyone would want to throw pro-choice over board. A goal of no abortion is fine and noble, but it will not be achieved by forced choice -- the only difference will be to make it easier for the rich and more difficult and dangerous for the poor. And thinking about pro-life, you may also want to consider the implication for an unwanted and unwelcome child's life. Help people make an informed decision and you'll be surprised of how well they will exercise their right to choose.

Antonio Manetti said...

The reference to "Ms. Steinfels" as the author of the piece should have been "Ms. Henneberger". ...Sigh.


Antonio Manetti said...


The point you raise has been made before and met with thundering silence.

It's my opinion that a regimen of punitive sanctions is more in keeping with the conservative mindset.

Morning's Minion said...


Whatever happened to the virtue o a consistent ethic of life? What about the argument that inconistency and hypocrisy should be left to the Republicans?

North-bound Mule said...

Yes, in a truly just society, the poor should be able to mangle their lives and mutilate their selves as easily as the rich do!!!

It is interesting that this argument was being made a century ago in regard to relaxing divorce laws, essentially gutting the contractual guarantees of civil marriage, benefiting everyone but the person who wishes to remain married.

As for the question posed to Manetti, did MM really think her allies take such superstition seriously?