The Democratic Party’s trying more and more to compromise on abortion, by which I mean it’s ignoring Roe. Worse, it’s doing this not as part of a pragmatic coalition framed around reducing the need for abortion, which would attract moderate voters, but as part of a strategy to woo left-wing Dominionists.
On the opening day of the 110th Congress on Jan. 4, for instance, Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid, Democrat of Nevada, an abortion foe, introduced a bill to increase funding for family planning and to improve access to emergency contraception.
The measure has been backed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, a champion of abortion rights, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a leading Democratic presidential prospect.
These and other initiatives are a far cry from previous Democratic efforts that drew strong conservative opposition, including funding for abortions for women in the military serving overseas and UN family-planning programs in Third World countries.
A while ago, Brad Plumer suggested that the new Democratic Congress might repeal the Global Gag Rule. Reid, whose personal predisposition is against abortion, is lurching to the right on abortion. Although he’s partisan enough to have fought against Bush’s judicial nominees, it’s not at all clear that on the one that matters, Stevens’ replacement, he’ll succeed where he failed on Alito. In addition, when it comes to setting the agenda, he’s apparently internalized the idea that abortion is not a core Democratic value.
The article calls people who are moderate on abortion “abortion grays.” Appealing to them by talking about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is useful, although as always, the goal of accumulating political capital shouldn’t be to accumulate more political capital but to spend it on useful proposals, such as a repeal of the Global Gag Rule.
The problem is with the idea of reaching out to an Evangelical constituency. Jim Wallis isn’t an abortion gray, but an abortion black: he’s against the procedure. He supports the Democrats tepidly, but the more the Democrats empower him, the more he’ll pull them to the right on abortion. It’s as unavoidable as the demise of the pro-choice Republican after Reagan’s cooption of the religious right.
Unfortunately, even in terms of reducing unwanted pregnancies, there’s little the Democrats can do without taking a stance on a controversial cultural issue. Improving access to contraception could get American teen pregnancy down to Canadian levels, i.e. from 84 to 33, but would require far greater access than pharmacists who won’t dispense Plan B are willing to give. Backwaters in rural Canada have teen pregnancy levels approaching the USA’s.
If the political will existed, the easiest way to reduce teen pregnancy would be by instituting mandatory comprehensive sex ed. It’s possible to sell this by harping on the fact that Dutch teens get pregnant at one eighth the rate of American teens, but a) it requires an immense investment of political capital, and b) even if it didn’t, the Democrats wouldn’t do it.