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March 10, 2014 3:37 PM Differences of Principle vs. Differences on Strategy and Tactics

By Ed Kilgore

One of the most difficult but essential analytical tasks in dealing with intra-party disputes is to distinguish genuine differences of opinion over principles and differences over strategy and tactics. The latter do matter, but mainly in terms of what a political party or movement does to secure power, not what they do with that power once they possess it.

Additionally, supporters of more a more direct strategy and more confrontational tactics often reveal the extremism of party-wide ideological positions that more cautious people would prefer to disguise. So you can learn a lot from paying attention to the loud-and-proud types even if you don’t think they will prevail within their own party.

I say all this as a prelude to Irin Carmon’s piece at MSNBC about a new and abrasive wing of the antichoice movement that doesn’t believe in hiding its light under a bushel of pieties about late-term abortions or “women’s health:”

For the mainstream movement to ban abortion, graphic photos and aggressive language have generally gone out of style. The winning slogans, the ones Republican politicians prefer, are warmer, fuzzier: Thumbsucking ultrasound photos, or “women’s health” used as a pretext to shut down safe abortion clinics, including three in Texas this month alone. The losing slogans involve Akin-like “legitimate rape” and comparing Planned Parenthood to the Klan.

Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) begs to differ. Founded out of Norman, Oklahoma, and with chapters nationwide, AHA activists wear t-shirts emblazoned with “End Child Sacrifice” and proudly display photos of bloodied, fully developed fetuses. They protest outside churches - yes, churches - accusing them of not doing enough to end abortion, and talk scornfully of “pro-lifers” who make peace with rape exceptions to abortion bans.
AHA activists disdain the phrase “pro-life” altogether. They prefer “abolitionists,” with all slavery comparisons explicitly intended, and they want to push the larger movement to abide by their uncompromising positions. That means moving away from the incremental strategy - 20 week bans, admitting privileges laws for clinics - and sticking to banning all abortion without exceptions, equating hormonal birth control (even the daily pill kind) with abortion, and advocating that women who have abortions be tried as murderers. That sort of unblinking absolutism in the face of the messiness of real life decision-making may be what has drawn nearly 34,000 people to like their Facebook page.

But here’s the thing: their basic positions are generally shared by antichoice activists of all varieties. What the AHA zealots are demanding is that antichoicers exhibit some honesty about them:

They don’t care who they offend. They aren’t interested in a political or legal strategy; they reserve their deepest scorn for the incrementalists who have crafted a step-by-step plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. As far as AHA is concerned, those guys are sellouts. But in the end, there isn’t so much that the mainstream movement and Abolish Human Abortion disagree on besides tactics.

Watch and learn.

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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