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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pro-Lifers Discover Reality

The right has been stringing their voters along for decades with the wedge issue of abortion. Few Republican candidates get their campaigns off the ground without taking a position as close to the right pole of the issue as they can get away with. Even John McCain, who didn't seem comfortable with the issue, described himself as "proudly pro-life" and expressed a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade. In the final presidential debate, McCain treated the question of a woman's health as an excuse to get an abortion. "That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, 'health,'" McCain said, making air quotes with his fingers.

But the thing is, Republican candidates have talked a good game on abortion. While Bush claimed to want to foster a "culture of life" in America, he got right to work creating a culture of death. We absolutely needed go to war and kill people and, if you wanted to stop killing people, it would be an insult to those who had died. If we quit after it became clear the Iraq war was pointless, Bush argued, the dead would have "died in vain." Not only did we have to spread death and misery around the world, but we then had to worship that portion of the dead who were American. The glorious culture of life was only mentioned when throwing a bone to the anti-abortion folks, mostly through actions that wouldn't reduce the number of abortions performed in any way -- a ban on funding embryonic stem cell research, for example. The ban didn't stop a single fetus from being aborted. Not one.

Of course, it was never designed to. It was designed to create another wedge issue between the anti-abortion types and the rest of us, just in time for the 2004 election. Bush had "discovered" one more way that the secular forces of science had come up with to kill babies. In the end, Bush accomplished nothing but getting re-elected. Stem cell research was set back, no abortions were avoided, and the war over abortion was fresh as a daisy and basically unchanged -- just the way the Republican party likes it.

It's been sort of an ongoing theme of mine that the GOP uses the pro-lifers as pigeons. They use abortion to get people to vote for them, then don't do much to address it. Republicans are pro-life activists on the campaign trail and pro-corporate politicians in office -- it's all about abortion on the stump and all about capital gains tax cuts and deregulation once in office.

It's also been my long-standing argument that sooner or later these voters are going to wise up. You can only pull the same trick over and over so many times before people stop falling for it. But these are mostly people of faith -- with "faith" meaning "unquestioning belief despite evidence to the contrary" -- so it takes a while for them to catch on. In this case, about four decades. Remember, many of these people are still fighting over the 150 year-old theory of evolution. This process of enlightenment takes a while.

But, in the case of abortion, it seems to be taking about forty years. The Washington Post's Jacqueline L. Salmon reports that some of these pro-lifers are changing their tactics to match reality.

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education -- services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

Actually working to reduce abortions. What a novel concept. Well, it would be a novel concept if the pro-choice movement hadn't beat them to it. Making abortion illegal would never have eliminated abortion; the way to do that is to make it unnecessary. As Bill Clinton once put it, the goal should be to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare."

"Abortions did become rarer during Clinton's time in office, dropping by 11 percent," columnist E.J. Dionne wrote last week. "But since Clinton made no major public moves on abortion reduction, many pro-lifers who had been inclined his way felt he ignored the third word in his motto." If they had watched the numbers, rather than anti-abortion propaganda, they'd have had reason to celebrate Bill Clinton's accomplishment. Instead, they considered him the devil. And some see this new approach as equally evil.

"It's a sellout, as far as we are concerned," said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League, told Salmon. "We don't think it's really genuine. You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions." Others see a reasoned approach to abortion as problematic as well.

The Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput says that these new efforts to reduce abortions "undermined the progress pro-lifers have made and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue." Excuse me, but what progress? Roe v. Wade has practically become a founding document and most Americans want it to remain that way. A July Quinnipiac poll asked respondents "In general, do you agree or disagree with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion?" 63% agreed, 33% disagreed. There hasn't been any progress for the anti-abortion types.

I suppose the lesson here is that some people will wise up after being played for chumps for decades. They'll abandon a total ban and work with reality.

Others won't and will continue to devote their lives to a fight the Republican party has no interest in letting them win.