One of the most perplexing aspects of American politics to me is the obsession over abortion, a debate which civilised countries largely settled over forty years ago. Part of this is because the legal right to an abortion exists because of a court decision (Roe vs Wade), rather than any legislation such as the British Abortion Act of 1967, or New Zealand’s Abortion Contraception and Sterilisation Act of 1977 (both of which are far more restrictive of abortion than the US). There is a distinct feeling that the people were not consulted about the idea, which is fair enough. Especially given that Roe vs Wade, whatever your beliefs on the subject, is simply appalling jurisprudence. There is no way that the US Constitution guarantees legal abortion.
The situation, however, is one where there is a guaranteed right to an abortion in the first two trimesters, whatever any President, or state or federal legislature, might have to say about it. There are only two ways in which this decision can be overcome. 1) Bring a test case to the Supreme Court, in which they rule (correctly) that no such right exists; and 2) Alter the US Constitution in some way to clarify the situation. The second option is not going to happen. In the case of the first option, it is entirely up to the judiciary – no elected official can guarantee a change. A President can nominate justices, and the Senate can confirm them, but that is the only leverage they have. You might still end up with David Souter.
What I am trying to say with all this is that the opinion of an elected official on abortion simply has no relevance. You may as well have asked Todd Aiken what his favourite TV show was. You can ask a senate or presidential candidate what their views are on judisprudential philosophy, but that would seem to be the only pertinent thing worth discussing.
It follows from this that, as touched on in this article, there is simply no policy programme one could come up with as a politician regarding abortion. It’s simply a moral issue – something akin to whether you think people should eat meat or not. It has no relevance. So for Republicans to keep it alive and keep it on the table can have no positive effect. The days in which you could get a vote because you said you were “pro-life” are dwindling.
Even the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are meaningless. They signify nothing. For example, I believe that abortion, unless needed to save the life of the mother, is abhorrent and morally wrong in all circumstances, even rape and incest. But I’m also not of a mind to send anyone to prison for killing their foetus, or aiding and abetting the process. I’m of the view that foetuses and embryos die all the time, and almost nobody holds memorial services for them, or cremates the “product of conception”. The sin of abortion is largely a sin against God and against human decency, not against those already born, and it should be dealt with by God, not by the justice system. So what does that make me? “Pro-life”? “Pro-choice”? Both?
Actually, it makes me fairly consistent with most Republican views. Even Sarah Palin has stated she is unwilling to have women arrested for having an abortion. That largely makes a mockery of the Republican insistence of making it a campaign issue. Would Republicans make it a crime? It seems not. So why effectively lie to themselves, and to the electorate, when not only do they have no intention of following through, but Democrats build entire election campaigns around demagoguing you on it to turn out their base? That is dumb, dumb politics. Herman Cain, in his political naivety, effectively pointed out that the emperor has no clothes in his ill-fated Presidential run last year. Many commentators saw his views as “confused”. To my mind, Cain seemed to be the only one who wasn’t confused. The standard GOP position on abortion is a joke.
A moral position is not the same as a political one. Politicians should run like hell from making moral pronouncements – on ANYTHING. People don’t want to know. Most women, even if they haven’t had an abortion, have a friend who has had one. If people feel like they are being judged, they won’t vote for you.
It is time Republicans gave up on labelling themselves as “pro-life” and got some sort of consensus around what they are going to do about the abortion issue. That policy position may be “nothing’. I could live with that. But it needs to be a concrete position. They need to state clearly that they are not going to ban abortion (they can’t anyway), and instead talk about what they can do to ensure mothers see it as a less attractive option than the alternatives. The debate needs to be had. The whole issue needs to be taken off the table, because the reality is that it is not on the table anyway, and by insisting that it is on the table without a concrete solution, the GOP can only cost themselves votes.