Legal, Safe, Rare—and Bad Advice. The Times just published another piece urging Democrats to temper their support for reproductive rights. This piece, “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion,” by one Michael Wear, a political consultant on religious issues, is a classic of cherry-picked poll numbers and disingenuous reasoning. Read it with care.
In fact, as Pew’s polling shows, support for keeping abortion legal has actually increased slightly in recent years.
As I explained in a post last month in response to another misleading Times piece, Americans are ambivalent about having abortions but a healthy majority supports a woman’s right to choose whether to have one.
The longtime phrase—legal, safe, and rare—still describes how most voters feel about abortion and the right set of public policies. As I wrote in that post:
Americans have been personally ambivalent about whether and why to have an abortion ever since Roe v. Wade. Nobody is eager to have an abortion.
At the same time, majorities of Americans have long believed that the decision of whether to have an abortion, however reluctantly, belongs to the woman. Most Americans are not ambivalent about the policy.
Is this all that complicated? The only thing that has changed is that anti-abortion groups, looking to far-right courts, have come up with one subterfuge after another to make abortion almost impossible to obtain, and have thus muddied the waters.
Republicans have succeeded in making abortion less legal, less safe, in the hope of abolishing it altogether. They’ve also been successful at persuading some strategists and commentators that progressives and Democrats should try to meet anti-abortion activists halfway on the premise that this is where public opinion is.
That would be a huge mistake. It would be giving in to salami tactics, and the anti-abortion right will only keep moving the goalposts.
Most voters are squeamish about late-term abortion. But the idea that we need to ban late-term abortions, on the premise that some women use them as a form of belated birth control, is a total canard. Late-term abortions are invariably performed because the fetus is horribly deformed or the woman’s health is at risk.
But fake imagery spread by the right and Trump’s claim of a baby “ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth” animates efforts like Wear’s op-ed to persuade progressives to meet conservatives halfway.
Wear, who served as Obama’s emissary to religious groups, wrote this:
If a Democratic presidential nominee held and communicated views that reflected the median Democratic voter, that nominee would support and defend Roe v. Wade, but express moral reservations about abortion itself; offer openness to additional restrictions on abortion, including a ban on late-term abortions with limited exceptions; and call for a set of policies with the purpose of reducing the abortion rate in America, such as paid family leave, workplace protections for parents and pregnant women, increased access to birth control, and a strengthened social safety net.
It’s a huge mistake for progressives to “express moral reservations about abortions,” which only plays into the hands of the religious right. Wear is evidently a foe of abortion, though he is cagey about coming right out and saying it. That makes him an unreliable strategic adviser to Democrats.
Almost inadvertently, Wear is right about one thing. Democrats, when asked should not just flatly declare they are pro-choice. They should take the occasion to explain “legal, safe, and rare,” and what it takes to make abortions rare consistent with a woman’s right to choose, as well the opposition of much of the anti-abortion lobby to birth control. And they should explain the Republicans’ insidious tactics of chipping away at Roe v. Wade as well as the class consequences (rich women will still get abortions.)
Beware of zealots pushing their own views posing as friendly strategic advisers.