Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Abortion politics, after South Dakota

Get Religion calls our attention to this carefully-done LAT article on the way in which South Dakota’s virtually total abortion ban (covered very well by our friends at South Dakota Politics) is roiling both sides of the abortion debate. Folks who are pro-life worry that the prospect of hearing the inevitable court case will make the next Supreme Court nomination battle even more toxic. Some think that a more prudent strategy is to continue chipping away at the precedents and to continue to move public opinion in a pro-life direction.

On the other side, the pro-choice folks are divided between those who think it’s important strategically to give some ground on the moral question in order to protect the choice:

The liberal think tank Third Way is circulating a memo on Capitol Hill advising politicians who support abortion rights to recalibrate their message. Instead of stressing a woman’s right to choose, they should tell voters that they support "personal liberty," but accept that it’s a "moral responsibility" to reduce the number of abortions.

This strikes me as nothing new--it’s just a version of the old "safe, legal, and rare" formula, which I discussed (most recently) here. But for some, this apparently (and astoundingly) concedes too much:

Such tactical positioning infuriates Dr. Warren Hern, who runs an abortion clinic in Boulder, Colo. He, too, would like to see fewer women with unwanted pregnancies; he counsels all his patients on contraception. But in his view, the availability of safe, legal abortions should be a cause for national pride — not shame.


He urges politicians to respond to the South Dakota ban with statements like this: "Before 1973, women were dying like flies from illegal abortions. That has stopped, and it’s one of the great public health success stories of the 20th century."


Susan Hill agrees. She’s president of the National Women’s Health Organization, which runs abortion clinics in five states, and she has been flooded with calls and e-mails from supporters outraged at South Dakota’s ban.


Hill sees only one way to capitalize on that anger: a campaign to remind Americans that abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in this country. One out of every three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.


"We need to make people realize that this is about them: Their family. Their daughter," Hill said.


Above all, she said: "We have to stop apologizing" for the nation’s abortion rate — and start mobilizing the millions of women "who believe it was the best choice for them."

While the new salience of the "safe, legal, and rare" strategy explains something of the recent letter from Catholic Democrats in the House, the latter indicates a problem the Democratic Party is going to have holding its coalition together.

In closing, I’ll note that my friend John Seery is afforded the last word in the LAT article: "There is no conventional wisdom at this point," he said. "The traditional camps aren’t pursuing the traditional strategies … All bets are off. We’re in a period of transition."

Discussions - 3 Comments

"We need to make people realize that this is about them: Their family. Their daughter"

What daughter? She was aborted.

This is strikingly similar to the shift that occurred among southern slaveholders in the 1820s--moving away from the argument that slavery was a necessary evil and toward the view that it was a positive good.

I would really like to know the pre-1973 abortion mortality data (women "dying like flies" is alleged) to contrast with the best estimates that since Roe we as a nation have killed approximately 30 million Americans in utero.

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