Thursday, December 02, 2004

A good piece of analysis in the Times today about the politics of abortion--evidently my new favorite issue at AIS, after years of studiously avoiding the subject--and the 109th Congress:

...the strengthening of Republican control and the addition of senators for whom the abortion issue ranks very high, like Mr. Coburn, Representative David Vitter of Louisiana and former Representative John Thune of South Dakota, could have a deeper effect on the Senate than a simple vote count suggests.

In fact, several leaders of the abortion-rights movement indicated in interviews that they felt very much on the defensive these days, both in terms of fending off new legislation and in dealing with the prospect of a Supreme Court nomination fight, given new urgency by the illness of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

"We are all expecting a battle on the Supreme Court," said Nancy Keenan, the new president of Naral Pro-Choice America. And, she added, "The number of anti-choice restrictions will be increasing. We'll be fighting that day in and day out."

Many analysts speculate that Mr. Bush could end up appointing as many as three justices to the Supreme Court; depending on the justices replaced, that could have major implications for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion. Mr. Bush said during the campaign that he would not impose a "litmus test" on his nominees, but his conservative supporters clearly expect him to name someone who opposes Roe.

That's an understatement, considering that right-wingers have already opined that Alberto Gonzales--the Attorney General-designate who shrugged off the Geneva Convention and helped enable Abu Ghraib, but was insufficiently fanatical on the abortion issue in a previous job in Texas--is "Spanish for Souter," referring to Bush 41's Court nominee who proved surprisingly liberal.

Back to the article:
Abortion-rights advocates say their primary challenge these days is to highlight the stakes. They argue that the anti-abortion movement's incremental restrictions are just part of a long-term plan to marginalize and undermine the constitutional right. "This issue has to be brought to the American people in a very straightforward, clear way," said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, an abortion-rights advocate.
Naral Pro-Choice America now considers 50 members of the new Senate to be "anti-choice," 21 to be "mixed" on the issue, and 29 to be fully "pro-choice." In the previous Senate, that Naral tally was 49 "anti-choice," 22 "mixed" and 29 fully "pro-choice."

Abortion-rights groups say they are convinced the public is with them on the basic right. The New York Times/CBS News Poll shows the public continues to favor keeping abortion legal, but many people would like to see stricter limits than currently exist. The most recent poll, conducted last month, found that 34 percent said abortion should be generally available to those who want it, 44 percent said abortion should be available but under stricter limits than it is now, and 21 percent said abortion should not be permitted.

Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has worked for Naral, said: "No one can deny that the Senate has gotten harder for proponents of abortion rights. That's undeniable. However, I don't believe the country fundamentally changed on this issue."

Is it too much to hope that this "highlighting the stakes" might include a move away from the psychologically tone-deaf strategy of championing abortion rights without acknowledging the painful and deeply personal nature of every decision to exercise those rights? This would seem to be the approach that would resonate with a public that remains, as I've described myself, "uncomfortably pro-choice."

Guess we'll see.

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