Abortion and the Art of Compromise

Today is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, so I thought we’d talk about abortion. If you need to turn away, I understand. For me, the subject has been a part of my life as a reproductive-aged woman for a long time, and it used to define my political stance. I was a single-issue voter for many years. I was and remain firmly pro-choice.

However, I have grown over the last few years and now no longer support unrestricted abortion-on-demand, and I no longer think that those with a pro-life point of view are sexist pigs, or duped by sexist pigs. I’m writing about this now because I have seen ample evidence in recent weeks that the country is catching up to those of us with more evolved points of view on abortion. Changes are happening that signal to me a growing consensus for ratcheting down the rhetorical wars on abortion, and I thought those signals were worth a discussion, no matter where you fall on the scale of opinion.

Let’s start with the left, because honestly, a certain faction within that group has been accidentally on the vanguard of this issue for a while. It started way back in 2006 when Jane Hamsher began to question the commitment and credibility of abortion rights groups and their leaders, most notably Nancy Keegan. Like the blogger boyz she learned from, Hamsher was half making a point and half picking on her favorite target to rile the base. I said “accidentally on the vanguard” because she didn’t go after the Democratic Party for its piss poor record on preserving abortion rights. Instead she chose the woman who doesn’t have any say in the political mechanisms of abortion policy, she just manages a fund dedicated to it.

Flash forward two more years to 2008, and a huge awakening over the topic began to happen to women on the left, especially those who supported Hillary Clinton, as the base—led by the blogger boyz—attempted to use the abortion divide to badger women into voting for Barack Obama. Suddenly lots of women were asking what the Democrats had actually done to protect access to abortion, and many began to realize that the party had spent the better part of 20 years capitulating on every demand of the pro-life right. They weren’t even smart enough to use their capitulation to barter for things like sex education or access to birth control. They were definitely not the party for pro-choice constituents.

The combination of events has led to even further questioning by some on the left, and a realignment has emerged that promises a chance for a mature discussion of what abortion means and how it should be handled, as well as a discernable loss of defensiveness on the part of many. What’s not being talked about in mainstream discussions or among those that still cling to their left-identity but have adopted this mature point of view is that a similar realignment has been happening on the right.

Let’s start with this NYT article about abortion changes that are being proposed by Republicans as a result of the political “shellacking” that Democrats took in the 2010 election. Now, make no mistake about it, the article is designed the scare the bejeesus out of the NYT’s largely pro-choice audience by suggesting that America is headed back to the bad old days of deadly back-alley procedures. Not that regulation is any guarantor, mind you, of safe, legal access to abortion, but I digress.

Despite the specter that provides the tone for the NYT’s argument, what struck me most about it was that a bunch of evangelical, pro-life Republican men were actually pretty consistently discussing the idea of a 20-week cut off for ethical abortion. There are comments like this:

This is the best climate for passing pro-life laws in years…

Yet the right is not going after elimination or criminalization of abortion as they have before. No, they are compromising at a 20-week solution. That is some serious headway, I think a lot of which can be accounted for by the Tea Party’s refusal to cede rhetorical ground to social conservatives. They have done this despite many attempts by the social conservative movement and their leaders to co-opt the Tea Party. Which brings me to my next link: Abortion as a Tea Party Issue.

Make no mistake here, either, Kathryn Jean Lopez is a staunch abortion opponent, and this article is designed to slip some social conservative kool aid into the tea. I ran across the article because I follow Smart Girl Politics, a conservative pro-woman group, on Facebook, and they posted the article asking for comments from Tea Partiers. Those comments, though I can’t link to them (you can find Smart Girl yourself on Facebook), are fascinating for what they tell us about the realignment happening on the right.

The vast majority answered no, that abortion is not a Tea Party issue. A few commenters suggested that it may be, to the extent that public funding is used to pay for abortions. Fewer still, but notably some, said that it wasn’t even in the case of public funding, because raising a poor child is much more expensive than funding an abortion (a callous, yet logical position). One conservative mother even commented that her views had changed after being pregnant herself, and that her pregnancies helped her understand why some women would feel an urgent need to bring the physical misery of pregnancy to an end. My favorite comment, though, was this one:

No, I don’t. We should stick to the fiscal/monetary issues. We don’t ask pro-life groups to take up tax issues or the NRA to take up abortion. The reason? Because the smaller the focus of issue of the group the more likely you’ll accomplish the goal. Tea Party has way to broad of focus now, we don’t need to add another one. I’m hugely pro-life, but I don’t think it’s appropriate. I don’t ask the NRA to be “tea party” and don’t expect the pro-life or anti-immigration to be tea party either.

This is a rational argument to make. It also serves to further isolate those on the right for whom compromise is not an option. And if rational arguments and isolation of extremists is not indicative of realignment, I don’t know what is. One can disagree on any number of side issues, such as the forced use of ultrasounds, and still see this for what it is.

None of this is to say that there’s nothing to worry about with regard to abortion. Obviously each successive generation of people who support abortion access will have to watch the margins on this one so they don’t lose too much. And each successive generation of folks who earnestly believe that an unviable fetus is still a life will have to watch the margins to make sure the state doesn’t produce anymore Gosnells and hold their ground as well. But I believe there is a reasonable way to discuss this issue, a discussion that allows for a variety of nuanced opinions. I believe we are closer to having that discussion than we ever have been, thanks to those on the right and the left with the courage to question, as well as independents who see value in the art of compromise.

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One comment on “Abortion and the Art of Compromise

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