The Fog of the Abortion War
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Dec 10, 2010 at 11:25:11 PM EST
This past election cycle, the latest version of the urban legend that the Religious Right is dead and that the culture wars are over, or nearly so -- was that the tea party movement was all about secular concern for smaller government and lower taxes.  The narrative had some truth to it in that the themes regarding taxes and the size of government were certainly emphasized -- but that was never all there was to it.  Nevertheless, the shallow version of the narrative largely continued through the election period and is carried forward by some to this day. The media and some in the political classes may (unsurprisingly) be too heavily invested in the spin of the false narrative to ever get themselves unspun. But this, and historical revisionism about recent events, are contributing to the gathering fog around the actual dynamics of the politics of abortion.  
The tea party candidates, nearly all Religious Right social conservatives, beat more established and establishment type pols all over the country. For the Senate alone, Rand Paul, Joe Miller, Sharon Angle, Ken Buck and Christine O'Donnell were among the most militantly antiabortion candidates for major office in history. Some Religious Right candidates downplayed their religious rightyness and rode the anti-tax, small government Tea Party narrative into many electoral successes. But the post election, Beltway Insider version of the narrative insists that religion had little to nothing to do with the election results.

Meteor Blades, writing at Daily Kos offers a set of facts that does not seek to measure the religiosity of the candidates, but illuminates the election results in practical terms. He wrote:

Without having tallied close races, NARAL's BlogforChoice put the anti-choice forces as of Nov. 3 clearly in control of the House, with 248 Representatives in the anti-choice column and 33 with a mixed record. In the Senate the lines are more closely drawn, with 46 anti-choice, 40 pro-choice and 14 mixed-choice Senators. In both houses together, that's a 60-vote gain for the anti-choice forces. [emphasis added]
If abortion is the premier issue of the culture wars, then clearly the antiabortion movement gained a smashing victory in battle of the 2010 federal elections. It is already well established that Religious Right initiated antiabortion legislation and regulation in the states, where most policy is made, has made great progress in recent years -- this, while Beltway Insiders were busy seeking common ground with anti-abortion activists. This was the subject of considerable discussion, and in the end, dubious outcomes. I would have thought that even Inside The Beltway, the discussion would have progressed. But if a recent blog post at Bold Faith Type is any indication, it may have regressed. Nick Sementelli writes:
There are numerous examples of common-ground ideas being adopted by political actors or introduced as legislative proposals. Notably, the Democratic Party added abortion reduction language in their 2008 party platform, then-Senator Obama mentioned it in his presidential nomination acceptance speech, the Ryan-DeLauro bill introduced last year incorporated a host of ideas about prevention and support for pregnant women aimed at the same thing, and the Affordable Care Act included $250 million in funding for programs supporting pregnant and parenting women and families.
Let's address the problems with this paragraph one at a time. First, the 2008 Democratic Party platform explicitly rejected abortion reduction language, as has the White House. Both use the general phrase and concept of seeking to reduce unintended pregnancies and thus need for abortion. In fact, the goal of numerical abortion reduction is a key strategic concept in the long term war of attrition the antiabortion movement has waged in the states.

Second, Obama's one line on abortion in his 2008 convention speech was consistent with the party platform: "We may not agree on abortion," he said, "but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country." To some, this may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but in the world of abortion politics, it is huge, and the result of hard fought negotiations in the Democratic Platform Committee.

Third, the Ryan-DeLauro bill, introduced to much fanfare, got zero support from leading antiabortion organizations (although some individuals did support the bill) many of which oppose contraception, which was a featured element of the bill, and in combination with sex education, the only proven method of reducing unwanted pregnancies. The bill went nowhere and its prospects are dim at best in the new antiabortion, Republican majority Congress. Indeed, the prolife cosponsor Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) was kicked off the advisory board of Democrats for Life for advocating the bill.

Finally, there was indeed money included in the health care bill to help women bring pregnancies to term. Unmentioned is that anti-abortion Democrats forced the most draconian antiabortion provisions since Roe vs. Wade in exchange for their support for the bill. On the point, Sementelli links to an article by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) who details how the bill is intended at reducing the number of abortions. What a coincidence.

Antiabortion forces are already moving the abortion reduction agenda in the health care bill through the states. For example, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice reports:

Ultra-conservative lawmakers took control of at least 10 additional state legislatures for a total of 26 and 10 additional governorships in the November election... In short, we’re up against a comprehensive assault on reproductive freedom. The target is the new state insurance exchanges created by health care reform.

Their immediate strategy is to exclude coverage of abortion services from the exchanges, including from women’s private insurance plans. But make no mistake, this is a systematic effort to ban abortion, even while Roe v. Wade still stands.

to mention the hundreds of arsons and bombings, dozens of murders and attempted murders, thousands of episodes of stalking, death threats, bomb threats and more.  (The National Abortion Federation keeps statistics culled from law enforcement data.)

A question worth pondering is if one side sees itself in a war and the other side does not, what do we suppose the outcome will be?

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Dec 11, 2010 at 12:12:05 AM EST

for reproductive rights. That's what the outcome will be. History is littered with the remains of groups that simply refused to believe that the other side was waging war against them.
My reading of the NAF statistics shows a pattern of terrorist assaults that are backed by a network of supporters and yet these groups seem to be exempt from the Patriot Act.
It is past time to start asking some hard, serious questions of our government.

by Frank Frey on Sat Dec 11, 2010 at 09:58:40 AM EST
Not only do we need to ask these questions, but we also need to demand why they're going after Wikileaks and it's founder, and not against the domestic "Christian" terrorists in this country.

Things are being revealed that show the true state of the situation in this world... the very things that anthropologists and others have been saying for years.  This country needs to clean up it's act, and once people realize the U.S. is NOT a "Godly" nation and never was, maybe they'll realize that the country needs to live up to its promise and not down to its reality.

I'm tired of appearance over substance.  That was what the jackass Limbaugh spouted, but everything he supported was just appearance.  This nation needs to realize that a religious movement is taking over... and minorities are going to be the first to feel the effects (and then once they've come for us, they'll start coming for people who thought they were 'safe'!).

What struck me about this election was the lack of talk about freedom of choice.  The Religious Right (with notable exceptions) kept that out of the public discourse, and focused on raising anger over the economic misery people were facing.  Even then, they lied and misled people as to the real cause of what they faced (although I think a lot more people realize the misery is the fault of the rich, which I also think they're trying to change).  I think someone has advised them to not focus on the things near to their heart (taking away freedom from everyone else) and keep harping on the things that push the immediate needs button everyone has.  

If people knew the true state of affairs in this country, there would be a rebellion.  The sad thing is that would involve violence, and people would get hurt.  If we could change this country for the better without hurting people (except punishing those who are guilty), it would be a good thing and necessary.  Unfortunately, history teaches us that right rarely wins, because of things like not considering the opponents as enemies.

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Dec 11, 2010 at 10:19:33 AM EST

All this talk about the rights of individuals and government being intrusive only applies when it suits either the right or the left purposes.
I will, once again, reiterate a statement that seems to be the slogan of the left. If you or your mate don't want an abortion then carry your pregnancy to full term. If another couple chooses another option then it is nobody's business but theirs.

I would love to see the government ban all abortions as soon as they have enough people signed up to adopt those children. So those of you on the right or left opposed to abortion rush right down to your US member of the House of Representatives or your US Senator or even your state representatives and put your name on the list for adopting a baby or two or three. Come on busybodies, put your money where your mouth is. Bring your signs stating you will adopt so someone doesn't have to abort.

by deke4 on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 05:44:25 AM EST

As we make clear in the site guidelines, this is broadly speaking, a prochoice site and abortion is not up for debate.  Our focus is on understanding the role of the Religious Right for whom abortion is obviously a central animating issue.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 10:22:41 AM EST

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