Democrats Run from Abortion Fight

Let’s see. The South Dakota GOP passed a new law criminalizing abortion in virtually all cases, including rape and incest. According to Newsweek, Republicans in Washington are terrified that when voters, who are overwhelmingly pro-choice, start looking at the South Dakota law, they’ll wake up and realize that conservatives really are willing to ban abortion:

When South Dakota approved a law sharply restricting abortion last week, many pro-life Republicans around the country sounded a loud hallelujah. But at least one very senior Republican did not seem at all eager to join in the chorus.

As Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, flew to Memphis to attend the first gathering of potential GOP presidential candidates for 2008, a NEWSWEEK reporter asked him if he had anything to say about the South Dakota law. “No,” he said. Did he plan to make a statement on that topic at the Republican gathering in Memphis? “No” was the answer. Would he ever be willing to comment on the topic, other than to say that it’s up to the states to make their own choices on abortion? Again, the answer was “no.” The look on his face was more expressive. It appeared to ask, “Are you kidding?”

He’s not alone on this. George Allen, a contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2008, went out of his way to sidestep the issue on TV yesterday. And Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), worried about a pro-choice voter backlash last fall, saying there would be a “sea change in suburban voting patterns” if people ever started to believe that Roe was in danger:

Davis’s warnings on abortion grow out of the experience of Virginia Republicans in 1989, when the high court ruled that states could begin to restrict access to abortions. That fall, Democrat L. Douglas Wilder won the governor’s race, with strong support in Northern Virginia.

That doesn’t mean the Republican Party would never try to overturn Roe. The pro-life movement is certainly willing to go there, and they have a lot of influence. But it does suggest that abortion rights are an issue on which the Democratic Party could actually take a stand for a change—rather than “compromise,” as so many pundits are suggesting these days, by agreeing to further abortion restrictions in order to stake out an inane (and dangerous) “middle course.” But no. Newsweek reports that the Democrats plan to say not a word about the issue in the upcoming midterms:

In the upcoming midterm elections, the Democrats don’t plan to spend a dime on ads highlighting the abortion issue, according to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the savvy Chicago pol who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He wouldn’t spell out the reasons, but a top party staffer (who declined to be quoted out of deference to his bosses) told NEWSWEEK: “These guys are gun-shy because they’re used to getting clobbered on the issue.”

When have they been clobbered on the issue? Hard to say. The evidence, as Tom Davis noted, suggests otherwise. Polls indicate that basic attitudes on abortion haven’t changed over the past 30 years; if anything, people have become more pro-choice over time—Gallup found that 75 percent of Americans wanted abortion “always” or “sometimes legal” in 1975, a number that went up to 82 percent in 2005. By all accounts, many pro-choice voters have only sided with Republicans over the years because they don’t believe the party will ever try to overturn Roe or criminalize abortion (not to mention that many voters can generally remain blissfully ignorant of the negative effects of various abortion restrictions passed by states over the years, which disproportionately fall on poorer women). But now there’s proof. People should know.