Kansas Progress Institute

Ad Astra Per Aspera ~ To the Stars Through Difficulties

Abortion Positioning

Posted on May 9, 2017

By David Burress

I keep thinking about this claim that progressives can’t take Congress without a big tent that tolerates some candidates who are soft on abortion rights. That could well be true, but there are some nuances.


First, there is the often misunderstood ideological landscape. No candidate can get endorsed by anti-abortion organizations without adopting (or seeming to adopt) their full agenda. All of them want to criminalize all abortions without exception. Many of them also want to outlaw many forms of contraception as well. Moreover, if the candidate does not seem to support that absolutist position, there will be fliers condemning him as anti-life.


Now there are substantial differences in positions between pro-life organizations and typical pro-life voters. Many pro-life voters don’t think about that and simply accept guidance from the organizations. However pro-life voters who think for themselves typically would allow abortion in a few cases (e.g. life of the mother in first trimester). That means there could be opportunities for progressives to chip away some pro-life votes in some districts with a softer pro-life position. And this is where it gets interesting.


Note that “pro-choice” does not have a rigid definition. Many pro-choice organizations take an absolutist position, but support for Roe v Wades rules is usually accepted as pro-choice. (That could mean e.g. allowing 3rd trimester abortions only for life or health of the mother).


So a candidate might try to straddle the issue by claiming to be both pro-life and pro-choice, using something like the Roe v Wade standard without endorsing Roe. That probably wouldn’t pick up many pro-life votes because of the pro-choice admission. (Some 15% of voters claim to be both pro-life and pro-choice. However most them will go for the pro-choice candidate in any event.)


However there could be a strongly “pro-life” rhetoric that rejected “pro-choice” and yet (small print) arrived at something like the Roe standard. You could say you are pro-life and give a lot of emotional rhetoric, but occasionally say there needs to be some flexibility. When pressed you could highlight exceptions such as day-after contraceptives, life of the mother.


Or there could be a less evasive soft approaches, e.g. allow abortions for 20 weeks or life and health (plus pro-life rhetoric.) Could it work? That’s an empirical question. And it’s hard to evaluate unless some well-funded social scientists wanted to follow some individual elections.


I’m still waiting for a candidate to take the hard-ass truthful line that I believe could eventually defeat anti-abortionism. In particular:


“I am more opposed to abortion than the entire pro-life community put together, because I really want to do what actually works to drastically reduce abortion. The pro-lifers claim they can totally eliminate abortion, which no one has ever done anywhere, and therefore they are opposed to actually reducing abortion.


“We know what works to drastically reduce abortion, because it has been done and it worked. It consists in steps such as
1.free contraceptives and reproductive medicine.
2. universal scientific sex education.
3. stop trying to scare people away from patient-centered doctors and social workers by criminalizing abortion.

That much will take you a long ways towards minimal abortion. To get much further, you need some social welfare programs to encourage pregnant women to keep their babies–such as:
4. free medical care for pregnant women, mothers, and children.
5. adequate state child support for all parents.
6. real parental leave programs.
7. state-provided day care.


Since the antiabortion movement refuses to support these steps which are proven to work, I don’t think they really care about abortion at all. Maybe they are just opposed to sex.”

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