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June 24, 2013 1:10 PM Antichoicers’ Premature Victory Dance

By Ed Kilgore

As you may have heard, the drama in the Texas legislature wherein prochoice folk have engaged in round-the-clock protests and amendment efforts to stop the Republican Party’s use of special session procedures to enact one of the nation’s most sweeping antichoice bills will almost certainly come to a close with Rick Perry signing the bill. Among other things, the bill is likely to lead to the closure of 37 of the 42 Texas facilities providing abortion services.

This and similar developments in Republican-controlled states, along with the rush of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, has led to a lot of head-scratching among Democrats and political observers generally. Why on earth are Republicans renewing the “war on women” after it appeared to backfire in 2012? Why are state legislature enacting bills that probably will not survive judicial scrutiny? Why is the U.S. House ignoring all the advice of experts about the futility of “culture war” crusades when most people care far more about the economy and when it knows the Senate won’t act on this legislation and the president would in any event veto it?

Are they crazy? Or just prisoners of a radicalized “base?”

I’d answer the first question: “some are, some aren’t;” and the second question: “Yes, at least for those who aren’t themselves members of the “radicalized base.” But something else is going on that pro-choice folk usually don’t quite appreciate: conservatives think these tactics are political winners.

Check out this piece from Frank Cannon and Jeffrey Bell in National Review, entitled “The House’s Abortion Game Changer.”

[T]he June 18 vote [in the House] has the potential to trigger the most dramatic shift in the abortion debate since the first election of a proabortion president back in 1992. In stark contrast to the recent liberal theme of attack on the “extreme” pro-life willingness to protect pregnancies caused by rape and incest, from now on an unavoidable topic in elections of the future will be the extreme implications of the Left’s untiring advocacy of abortion on demand.
[F]acing independent advertising expenditures being prepared by several pro-life and social-conservative groups, [Democrats] will find themselves asked to explain why they favor a right to abort viable babies — including in the ninth month of pregnancy — in Gosnell-like surroundings.

So what this really comes down to is the belief of antichoicers that the Gosnell case allows them once again to focus attention on the one tiny area of the reproductive rights debate—late term abortions—where they have at least some serious purchase on public opinion. And having overcome (at least temporarily) the segment of their coalition that’s unwilling to compromise on rape and incest, they think they’ve got the upper hand.

Prochoice folk should do two things in response. First, they should constantly point out that efforts to “regulate” late-term abortions have almost invariably involved steps to shut down abortion providers generally, as is the case with the vast wave of state legislation imposing “safety” restrictions on clinics most will be unable to meet. But second, they should recall from the fights over so-called “partial-birth abortion” the consistent public opinion finding that a majority of Americans support the “health of the mother” exception to any post-viability abortion ban that was established by Roe v. Wade, which nearly all Republican bills on the subject drop.

That emphasis would in turn enable the pro-choice movement to reach its true high ground in this endless debate: that regardless of wavering measurements of public opinion in terms of “pro-choice” or “pro-life” self-identification, or support for or opposition to the latest controversy of the day, a consistent majority of Americans support the status quo on abortion law. Closing off the “health” exception, and closing down longstanding abortion clinics, is a radical step away from the legal regime of the last forty years. Once that is understood, then the obsession of Republicans with prioritizing abortion bills at the expense of everything else is easily recognizable for the war on reproductive rights it actually represents.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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