Yin-Yang Republicans face Roe

Here’s a question for you, as you wade into the waves of press coverage of the battle for the U.S. Supreme Court and, thus, the moral and cultural dimension of American law.

If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?

I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse — that would be the MSM — have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.

Stop and think about that: What is the liberal stance on abortion rights? Have you read about it in your local newspaper in the past few days? On the issue of abortion, what is the difference between a faculty-club Democrat and a country-club Republican?

I bring this up because of a Los Angeles Times story — a “news analysis” actually — by Peter Wallsten that perfectly describes the message the MSM will deliver to the Republican leadership over and over during the weeks ahead. The headline says it all: “If Ax Falls on Roe, It May Also Split GOP.”

Here’s the heart of the story:

But the prospect of progress toward overturning Roe — and the realization that President Bush could have at least two chances to make transformative appointments to the court — has exposed a disagreement between conservatives who want abortion criminalized and pragmatic Republicans concerned that shifting the issue from the courts to the ballot box would lead to massive GOP losses.

Of particular concern is the party’s fate in closely contested battlegrounds such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan, where the resurgence of the abortion issue could alienate moderate voters who have helped Republicans make gains on all levels.

“Smart strategists inside the party don’t want the status quo changed,” said Tony Fabrizio, chief pollster for the 1996 Republican presidential campaign of Bob Dole.

“This may cause Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger — who are strongly committed to being pro-choice — to flip or to push for a third-party movement,” he added. “If they did outlaw it, it would ultimately turn the Republican Party into a theocratic-based party rather than an ideological party, and the party would necessarily start shedding people.”

Now this is not the story where you are going to read about the high cost that Democrat leaders have paid — especially in the House of Representatives — for their decision to drive all but a handful of Democrats for Life out of the party.

But Wallsten’s point is valid. The Democratic Party knows what it believes about abortion. On this issue, there is absolute truth and the party leadership is willing to defend it. This is a black and white issue. There is no way to compromise. The press affirms the Democratic position on this issue.

It is the Republicans who are the yin-yang “What is truth?” party on the big life issues, the party that is trying to find a way to keep James Dobson and The Terminator in the same tent. And everyone knows — see this Washington Post story — that the barbarians will be firing live ammunition in this battle.

This is the game of chicken that Beltway politicos have been anticipating for five years. What would happen if Roe fell and voters were able to cast votes on abortion? I think we know the answer to that: Compromise and moderation, state by state. Basically the same thing that we see happening on gay unions.

The right would not be happy. The left would not be happy. The MSM would be very, very unhappy, because there might actually be a right, center and left to cover. Compromise would be possible.

But right now, there are only radicals and moderates and the action is all on the Republican side of the church aisle. Will George W. Bush knock down the big revival tent? Wallsten writes:

As a candidate, Bush sent plenty of signals that he agreed with that approach, even calling the two men examples of his ideal nominee. During his reelection campaign last fall, the president referred repeatedly to a “culture of life,” and he thrilled religious conservatives during a campaign debate when he described the 1857 Dred Scott decision affirming slavery as an example of a bad court opinion. Abortion foes view Roe as the Dred Scott decision of its time, and said after the debate that they saw the reference as a deliberate signal.

But Bush — aware of the need to attract votes from women and moderates — has stopped short of endorsing Roe’s reversal. Two prominent abortion rights supporters, Schwarzenegger and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, were given prime speaking roles at last summer’s Republican National Convention.

Bush told Danish television last week that although he believed abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape and incest or when a mother’s life was at risk, he understood that the nation was not ready for Roe to go away. “I’m a realist as well,” Bush said. “I mean, this is an issue that has polarized the American political society. And in order to get good policy in place that protects the life of a child, we’re going to have to change hearts.”

True, but that is another story, one with a Hollywood dateline.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    Undoubtedly abortion is a wierd political issue to write about, but generalities abound on all sides. Your throw-away comment about pro-life Democrats being driven out of the party is another one of those generalities without much basis in truth. If you have to dip back to Bob Casey and 1992 as “proof” that there isn’t acceptance, it’s a thin straw, especially since Casey didn’t back the party’s nominees that year and therefore probably didn’t deserve a place on the podium. Are prominent Republicans allowed to speak at the convention when they refuse to back the nominees?

    Abortion is a more divisive issue in Republican circles than it is for Democrats. There is no MSM media conspiracy to suggest that, one needs only look at polling numbers, recent history (in this decade) and the lack of success pro-choice Republicans have had on a national level.

  • tmatt

    Look at the math on Democrats in the House over the past two decades and compare that with the lose of pro-life voters.

    Also, someone — I knew GetReligion linked to it during the election — had data showing that 40 percent of Democrats still called themselves pro-life and took a stance that the MSM would call anti-abortion.

  • Harris

    I think the crucial question about the 40 percent of Dems being pro-life, is whether that group is gaining in voice within the party. The emergence of a more articulate religious voice on the left (see Jeremy’s post of the 4th) argues that perhaps this pro-life stance is gaining more acceptance. This is not without controversy as the withdrawal of Rep. Langevin (D-RI) from a potential run against Sen. Chaffee has shown.

    The general sense (speaking as an insider here) is that the pro-choice orthodoxy is not as vigorous as it once was, that other voices can be heard. If nothing else getting whacked in elections tends to help you focus.

  • Michael

    I don’t disagree at all that pro-life voices are being heard in the Democratic party, but abortion is not nearly as divisive an issue within the party when compared to the role abortion plays in Republican party politics.

  • Carl

    Isn’t the hardcore conservative position that not only should RvW be reversed but also fetuses have the same Constitutional rights to life, liberty, etc. as children? It seems to me that the “compromise” position is that there’s no right to an abortion, but there’s no right to non-abortion either, thus states should decide for themselves.

  • http://guildedlilies.tripod.com/index.html Steve Nicoloso

    I think Carl identifies the truly moderate position (viz., the constitution is silent on the matter, let states decide) that has been banned from the public square by persistent actions of activist courts, and the persistent inaction of MSM sources. However, due to long-term and widespread intellectual atrophy, it is not clear today that very many American’s even perceive the existence of such a middle position, nor do they understand that if Roe gets overturned, the status quo actually changes very little. One could hope that such “nuance” gets a bit more coverage in the coming months…

  • David R.

    This is a great falsity that has been perpetuated by the media, and that is that Roe v. Wade merely speaks to abortion after the third trimester. In fact, it stands for abortion anytime without limits. That is not moderate. I am not a moderate (I think abortion is homicide), but the true “middle ground” would probably be a regime where abortion is legal only under certain circumstances, i.e. rape, incest, life of the mother. The problem is that with Roe, that middle ground is impossible.

  • Tom C

    Here’s my two cents: The “moderate” position would approve of overturning Roe and allowing the states to muddle through w/o the federal gov’t getting too involved. The “liberal” position requires a national, uniform right to abortion on demand, dictated by the USSC if necessary (what we presently have). The “far right” position would be a national, uniform ban on almost all, if not all, abortions, dictated by the USSC if necessary. By this breakdown, the Scalia/Thomas position would be considered “moderate.”

    I would agree that overturning Roe would likely be more damaging to the Reps than the Dems. There are many folks I know who would vote Dem in a heartbeat if the Dems were no longer the Abortion Party. The Dems would be wise to back away from the issue. The Reps, on the other hand, would likely split over it, dividing between the libertarian/economic conservatives and the social/religious conservatives.

  • http://guildedlilies.tripod.com/index.html Steve Nicoloso

    The Reps, on the other hand, would likely split over it, dividing between the libertarian/economic conservatives and the social/religious conservatives.

    This, I think, would not necessarily be bad thing. I know I and my wife have held our noses and pulled the lever for repubilicans many times… actually just about EVERY time. It has been tremendous for the for the economic “conservatives” (nothing conservatizing about them of course), but has been a big fat net zero for the social/religious conservatives.

    Perhaps this is the harbinger of a major semi-permanent 3rd party. If the social/religous conservatives can’t get what they want in one of the Big Two, what have they to lose by going it on their own? And the repubs will be dead in the water… and… well I try hard not to feel just a little giddy about such a result…


  • Tom C

    What would be interesting would be to see a major party realignment, with the Reps becoming an economic AND socially liberal party and the Dems returning to their populist roots a la Williams Jennings Bryant. Think of the future Rep party as the “Economist” Party and the future Dem party as the “Pat Buchanan” Party. Possible? It actually sounds like a much more natural party alignment.

  • Jon

    “If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives)”

    That is a very silly and untrue statement. Most of the American population is against abortion on demand. According to an LA Times poll (http://www.religioustolerance.org/abopoll05.htm) 53% of Americans favor making abortion always or almost always illegal, while only 24% believe it should always be legal. CNN and CBS polls agree that only a third or less of Americans believe that current abortion law is acceptable. Does that mean that liberals, moderates, and sane conservatives together only compose 25-30% of America?

    On top of that, Roe vs. Wade is one of the worst SCOTUS decisions ever made. The right to abortion is not in the constitution, nor is it implied in the constitution. Real moderates who support abortion still understand this – overturning Roe v. Wade and then setting abortion laws state-by-state through the legislature is the only even remotely constitutional option for them.

    Radical conservatives want the Supreme Court to ban all (or almost all) abortions. I have never heard of a single potential SCOTUS nominee who supports this idea.

    A more accurate portrayal:

    Conservatives: Believe abortion should be settled by states and legislatures (as the 10th amendment states) and want the people to vote to ban it except in cases of rape, incest, or the mother’s life being in danger.

    Moderates: Believe abortion should be settled by states and legislatures and want the people to approve it in most cases during the first two trimesters.

    Liberals: Believe restrictions on abortion should be banned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

    (note – by this definition, the majority of americans are conservative, which agrees with recent voting patterns)

  • Marty

    One fact that is lost in this debate, or is being deliberately misrepresented, is that overturning Roe would make abortion a crime. It would not.

    Instead, it would return the authority to the states, counties, and municipalities. Those places where the voters wanted to ban abortion (Alabama) certainly will do so. Those that do not (California) will not.

    I see no reason this should split anyones party.

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    This is a great falsity that has been perpetuated by the media, and that is that Roe v. Wade merely speaks to abortion after the third trimester.

    Uh… Roe v. Wade doesn’t apply to abortion after the third trimester, because there’s no such thing as abortion after the third trimester.

  • Bob Neal


    The Bible verses in Luke 21:20-24 are an account of the Lord prophesying of a time when Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies. He said “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

    The Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and again in 135. The inhabitants of Israel scattered to all corners of the known world. To add insult to injury, the Romans renamed Israel “Palestine” in order to honor an ancient enemy of the Jewish people, the Philistines. The Romans ruled this area for a while, followed by Arabs, followed by “Christian” Crusaders, then Arabs again.

    The British established Palestine as a “protected territory” after a military victory over the Ottoman Empire in 1917. In an attempt to gain Zionist support for the Allied cause in World War 1, the “Balfour Declaration” provided for a “Jewish homeland in Palestine”. Over the years, the British did not do as much for the Jews as they could have because they felt obligated to “play politics” with the Arabs as well.

    The Holocaust of WW2 was a wake up call which made the international community of Jews realize that they needed to reestablish their homeland as a Jewish nation rather than as a British Protected Territory. This was accomplished in 1948. The Jews have fought against overwhelming odds to maintain their sovereignty for nearly 60 years.

    It is hard to imagine that Israel would have won the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 without help from God. It is incumbent upon the United States of America to consider God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 27:29 when we discuss foreign policy. If we line up on the side of those who curse Israel we will be cursed. If we line up on the side of those who bless Israel, we will be blessed.

    The Bible tells of a time when the Lord will judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). We need to get ready for this judgement by helping God’s chosen people, by passing righteous legislation, and by helping those who cannot help themselves.

    It is fortunate that our nation has been blessed with leaders who realized that our country cannot prosper without God. When asked if he thought that the Lord was on the side of the Union Army in the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln replied; “I don’t know. I just hope that we are on His side”.