Strong column by David Brooks this morning, pointing out how fanatical the Democratic Party is in its commitment to preserving abortion rights at all costs. He writes in the voice of a fictional Democratic consultant who is trying to convince the party to moderate its stance. Excerpts:
I understand that our donors (though not necessarily our voters) want to preserve a woman’s right to choose through all nine months of her pregnancy. But do we want late-term abortion so much that we are willing to tolerate President Trump? Do we want it so much that we give up our chance at congressional majorities? Do we want it so much that we see our agendas on poverty, immigration, income equality and racial justice thwarted and defeated?
Let’s try to imagine what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned. The abortion issue would go back to the states. The Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that roughly 21 states would outlaw abortion. Abortion would remain legal in probably 20 others. There’s a good chance that a lot of states would hammer out the sort of compromise the European nations have — legal in the first months, difficult after that. That’s what most Americans support.
The pro-life movement would turn its attention away from national elections. Single-issue anti-abortion voters would no longer be automatic Republicans. The abortion debate would no longer be an absolutist position on one side against an absolutist position on the other.
Did you know that godless, secular Europe actually has abortion laws that are significantly stricter than our own? And that the only nations with abortion laws as liberal as ours are China, North Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vietnam?
We need to acknowledge our vulnerability here. Democrats support the right to choose throughout the 40 weeks of pregnancy. But babies are now viable outside the womb at 22 weeks. As Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic, scientific advances “fundamentally shift the moral intuition around abortion.” Parents can see their babies’ faces earlier and earlier.
We’re learning how cognitively active fetuses are. A researcher from Britain recently found that fetuses prefer to look at face-like images while in the womb. Early in the pregnancy they can recognize and distinguish between tastes. Late in the term they can recognize words, tunes, languages. They seem to begin crying, for example, by the 28th week. It could be that one of the current behaviors that future generations will regard as most barbaric is our treatment of fetuses.
Brooks also talks about how Millennial voters are far less supportive of maximal abortion rights than people their age were a generation ago — and how pro-choice Millennials are not nearly as fired up about the issue as pro-life ones.
I’m asking us to rethink our priorities. What does America need most right now? One of our talking points is that late-term abortions are extremely rare. If they are extremely rare, why are we giving them priority over all of our other issues combined?
Read the whole thing. There’s lots more good stuff in it, including a recollection of how Democrats used to champion the rights of the unborn.
Seriously, whatever your politics, imagine how the landscape would change if abortion rights ceased to be a national political issue, and instead became a state one. Brooks is right: for a lot of us conservative voters, it becomes thinkable to vote Democratic in national elections. I’d love to see a poll asking that question, but intuitively, at least, it seems to me that the Democrats would instantly become competitive with enough voters to make a difference. It’s hard to quantify these things, but I’d estimate that I would be 50 percent more likely to consider voting for a Democratic candidate if abortion was off the table (and 100 percent more likely to consider voting Democratic if the Democrat was strong on religious liberty).
Note well Brooks’s point: most Americans want greater restrictions on abortion. The Democratic Party’s position is extreme. It is not unusual for a political party to take the views of its donors over its voters. In recent years, for example, polls have shown that grassroots Republicans have been much more moderate on economic matters than the Washington party establishment. The value in what Brooks proposes is in thinking how profoundly overturning Roe and (therefore) returning abortion to the states to regulate would shake up US politics. My guess is that most strongly pro-life voters would still stick with Republicans, but with things so evenly divided, Democrats would have a better chance at pulling enough pro-lifers away to make a difference, or at least depriving the GOP of a core source of activist strength.