What should Democrats do about Abortion?

Josh Barro with some good ideas for a start.  I think Barro is exactly right that there’s the opportunity for a substantial political win here for Democrats, but they have to play it right!

In calling for total bans on abortion, and in dusting off the trigger laws, Republicans are signaling they are willing to pay a political price for the unpopular policy they’re seeking to impose, but it’s not automatic that they’ll actually pay it. This is where Democrats need to focus. To obtain that political price from Republicans— and to win the elections they will need to win to protect and restore abortion rights — Democrats will need to make a counter-offer: set up favorable comparisons, where voters see a broadly popular policy offering from Democrats compared to the extreme, unpopular one from Republicans. [emphasis mine]

If Democrats offer proposals and rhetoric that are easily framed as similarly extreme, that’s tantamount to allowing Republicans to win the policy fight and suffer few consequences at the ballot box along the way…

As I’ve written before, Democrats should use the floor of Congress while they still hold both houses. Now. Not in November.1

After the draft decision leaked, Democrats brought a wish-list bill to the floor of both chambers that even pro-choice Republicans — even Sen. Susan Collins — were able to comfortably vote against on the grounds that it was too extreme, more expansive than Casey. Democrats need to break the agenda into pieces. As soon as possible, force Republicans to vote on matters like:

  • a federal right to abortion in the first trimester,

  • a federal right to abortion in cases of rape and incest,

  • a federal prohibition on criminal penalties for women who seek or obtain abortions, and

  • a federal prohibition on criminal penalties for non-providers who assist women in seeking or obtaining abortions.

This is not anywhere close to an exhaustive list. Unlike a catch-all bill, there are many individual ideas about protecting abortion rights that are very broadly popular — bringing them to the floor puts Republicans in the position of either voting for policies to protect abortion rights, or going home to defend votes that are actually hard to defend in election campaigns

I’m frankly concerned that the abortion rights advocacy apparatus in the US is not up to this task — it’s too used to advancing a maximalist position aimed at the minority of voters who believe abortion access should be unrestricted and even government-financed through at least the first two trimesters of pregnancy, with significant availability in the third trimester. It’s too used to lecturing people about how the term “choice” is “harmful.” It’s too used to talking to an audience of gender studies majors:

I suspect that, as speaking to the whole public becomes the key to winning protection for abortion rights, Democrats will re-learn how to do it. It’s important enough, and they’ll find a way, even if it requires shoving The Groups aside.

The reason I think there’s so much uncertainty as to how this will affect elections is because it’s a very open question as to whether Democrats will play this electorally smart– where they have a huge advantage– or make the mistake of pushing maximalist policies, where they do not.  The recipe for the former, as Barro has laid out, seems pretty clear.  Here’s hoping Democrats are indeed, smart enough to do this. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to What should Democrats do about Abortion?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Nothing in his top five that talks about protecting the life of the mother. That has to be #1 and it has to be any time during the pregnancy.

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