The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Whatever happened to pro-choice?

Once, even the poster-boy for conservatism, Ronald Reagan, was a pro-abortion pioneer [1]. Now, pro-choice seems to be propelled by something resembling Joementum.

The anti-abortion forces seem to be winning on all fronts: in the 108th Congress alone, with S3 (partial birth abortion) and HR 1997 (fetus murder, etc) [2]. A death by a thousand cuts strategy that is, it seems, in tune with public opinion.

A Gallup piece [3], coinciding with the big Washington demo, shows opinion split down the middle on the headline alternative (pro-choice v pro-life splits 48:45); but with many pro-choicers actually in favour of restrictive laws (only 40% favour abortion under all or most circumstances).

Those wanting stricter laws (37%) are almost double the number of those wanting less strict laws (20%). But the issue's salience is low, and Bush's anti-abortion stance helps him almost as much as it hurts him with the voters.

The demo preview pieces in the press seem to confirm that the pro-abortion cause has to a large extent been undermined. The New York Times piece looks back nostalgically to the 1992 demo at the time of the Planned Parenthood v Casey case in the Supreme Court, where Roe v Wade squeaked a pass.

The piece says the next chance for the balance of momentum to shift will be when a new Supreme is required. The thousand cuts strategy would counsel a re-elected Bush to nominate a pro-Roe-with-strings justice; but would the fire-eaters be prepared to settle?

A WaPo piece picks up the milkiness of some pro-abortion opinion. One activist says:
I was talking to a lot of groups who were incredibly feminist, who would say things like, 'I don't feel comfortable with late-term abortion,' or 'I don't believe in using abortion as birth control.' When a national spokeswoman says, 'It's just a woman's right to choose,' she's not acknowledging the questions such women have.'

The piece quotes
an abortion counselor in San Francisco, says she and many of her friends don't even like being labeled "pro-choice."

"It puts us in a box that is hard to get out of," she says.

The old warhorse, Kate Michelman, is evidently not a fan of the kinder, gentler approach:
When the young start talking about multiple health issues, she tells them that's politically risky because "when it gets into tactics and how you win a battle, you have to focus your message."

It's something of a case study. The incremental approach has clearly succeeded for the anti-abortion lobby, playing offense against the Roe principle. But would going for the biggest possible tent work for pro-choice?

Would it help in a Supreme Court fight to have previously garnered weak pro-choicers to a watered-down platform? Or would such a fight start with a fresh deck of cards?

  1. Signing the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967: piece of October 9 2003.

  2. Both of which figured here first on November 21 2003 - and several times thereafter.

  3. Very short shelf-life: get it while it's hot!


William Saletan of Slate says that pro-choice balked a reversal of Roe in the late 80s by a moderate line of keeping government out of family life. And counsels the sort of broader appeal that Michelman worries about.

Other march pieces here, here and here. And Chapter 1 (PDF) of Saletan's book on abortion politics.

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