The Dems' Abortion Trap
They say they don't like abortion, but their attitude says differently

James Taranto, in his Best of the Web column of December 16, 2004, for the Wall Street Journal, writes:

Newsweek reports the Democrats are getting some political advice from an unlikely source:

The week after Thanksgiving, dozens of Democratic Party loyalists gathered at AFL-CIO headquarters for a closed-door confab on the election. John Kerry dropped by to thank members of the liberal 527 coalition America Votes. When Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice political network EMILY's List, asked about the future direction of the party, Kerry tackled one of the Democrats' core tenets: abortion rights. He told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn't like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party, he said. "There was a gasp in the room," says Nancy Keenan, the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

This scene nicely encapsulates the Democrats' problem with abortion. The suggestion that Dems "don't like abortion" is met with "a gasp in the room." Does anyone "like" abortion? Does it even make sense to talk about it in gustatory terms? ("I like skiing, fine wine and, oh yes, abortion." "The only thing I hate more than broccoli is abortion.")

Kerry's choice of words shows that he himself is unclear on the concept. The Democrats' problem is not that they "like" abortion, but that many of them are (or at least seem) morally indifferent toward it. To them the argument is only about "a woman's right to choose"; all moral claims on the other side of the ledger are null and void, at least in terms of public policy.

The Democrats' problem here is not that they need to make their views clearer; it is their views, as expressed by Nancy Keenan's gasp, which are too extreme for most Americans. Republicans have their own abortion extremists, on the other side of the issue, but as we argued last week, Roe v. Wade precludes those views from affecting policy, so that the Republicans are able to adopt a highly nuanced approach to abortion.

There is only one solution for the Democrats' abortion dilemma, and that is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, which, as we noted last week, would shift the battle to terrain friendlier to the Democrats and the pro-choice position. This could happen, but it's likely to take a while, since it would require two personnel changes at the court (not including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a Roe dissenter) and an appropriate case to make its way to the court. We wouldn't be at all surprise if Roe remains "good law" a decade hence.

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