Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Abortion Foes' Dilemma: Confront or Cooperate?

Ever since Roe v. Wade, the Republican party has been, hijacked is too strong a word influenced is too weak a word so somewhere in between is appropriate, by the pro-life movement. At the same time, every time we see a pro-choice candidate, there is automatic assumption that such a candidate supports abortion on demand without limitations. Every presidential election, the GOP and the Democrats, and various subsets of each approach the issue of abortion like it is the grand battle of our lifetime with cries of extremism beling leveled at both camps by both camps.

Barack Obama's electoral win, and the defeat of a few abortion related referenda in the states, the pro-life camp is left with the question: Confront or Cooperate? It is a real question for the pro-life movement and one that they will struggle with mightily. However, what the GOP needs to do is not get bogged down into the debate any more.

Since Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court's abortion jurisprudence has been little more than tinkering around the edges. Despite the panicked fears of the pro-choice crowd, there simply is little reason for the Supreme Court to take up an abortion case; the nine justices, even the five most conservative justices are not fools and they won't touch a case with a ten-foot pole. Similarly, depsite whatever their personal preferences might be, it seems extremely unlikely that the Court will simply overturn Roe v. Wade and there is a valid reason for it.

The fact of the matter is, outside a few groups, the issue of abortion does not inform voters choices all that much. In the list of issues upon which voters decided whom to support, abortion is well down on the list, behind things that demand attention, the economy, terrorism, education, tax policy, and the like. It is a small, and yes vocal, group that determines their vote simply on a candidates position on abortion.

The problem for the GOP is that the pro-life group that makes that decision on a single issue holds far too much sway in the party. Why must a candidate declare a stance that is strictly pro-life in order to be the party's standard bearer? No candidate meets every single criteria. (Conversely, why must the "feminist" branch of the Democrats insist on pro-choice?) Really, a president has almost zero impact on abortion policy in this country. To this extent, the GOP has been "less than hijacked, more than appropriately influenced" by the pro-life movement.

I think that most Americans of a middle mind on the issue. They are loath to outlaw abortion completely and at the same time are not willing to allow abortion on demand at any time under any circumstances. I tend to believe that most Americans would agree with the notion that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. For example, I think many people like me would never counsel a woman to get an abortion, but neither would I stand in the way of a woman, in full control of her faculties, and competent enough to choose, from seeking an abortion (just don't ask me to endorse the idea). Is this the influence of the Court, setting out this road of "trimester" analysis that strikes a balance between the two camps? Perhaps, but I tend to think of it as America doing what America does best, finding a pragmatic and principale manner of dealing with an issue that really has no resolution.

For too long abortion politics has dominated the political landscape, the result of smart politicking, smart P.R. and the never quit attitude of the two opposing camps. I am not saying that these groups need to go away, as they have just as much right to speak about issues important to them as anyone else. What I am suggesting is that the political parties, Republicans and Democrats alike, need to deny center stage, veto power over candidates for national office on this issue; the parties need to be bigger than that.

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