Yesterday, neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said that while there’s no war on women in this country, there is “…a war on what’s inside of women” in America. So Democrats have a war on babies. I suppose that’s a clever talking point, but it doesn’t really make any sense. First of all, the Democratic Party is not forcing any woman to get an abortion. Women, under their own volition, can choose to get an abortion in this country at a local Planned Parenthood clinic or at other private clinics (albeit there are far fewer abortion clinics now than there were six years ago, but still).
Now, to the broader point, while I think the political phrase “war on women” is a little hyperbolic for my taste, it is going to be difficult for Republicans to disassociate themselves from that talking point. As Jessica Valenti pointed out last week, Republican presidential candidates seem to once again be engaging a game of “anti-abortion one-upsmanship”. Considering how far right Mitt Romney pivoted on this issue (by not only recanting his former pro-choice views, but also vowing to put stringent restrictions on abortion), it’s hard to see how repeating this strategy will lead to a different outcome in 2016. And make no mistake about it, Republican presidential candidates have already begun attempting to “one-up” how far the Romney/Ryan ticket went to please the Republicans pro-life constituency. We have heard multiple presidential candidates (Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee) endorse the view that there should not be exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother in an abortion ban.
Obviously, Republican presidential candidates (and legislators) have to please their devoutly pro-life base. Interestingly, there are 27 percent of Republicans who do identify as “pro-choice”, but that obviously is not going to change Republicans’ overall tone on abortion. The pro-life faction of the party clearly calls the shots, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. In order to compete in the “paint the other guy as an extremist” game, candidates like Rubio have developed their own talking points to respond to Democrats’ accusation of extremism on the abortion issue. Rubio starts off with a little “[Clinton] believes that children should be aborted even after 20 weeks of the pregnancy…” and ends with some “[s]he doesn’t believe that the parents of minors should be notified when their daughter is going to have… an abortion.” Now the question is, are voters going to be convinced that because Clinton supports post-20 week abortions (in certain circumstances), that she and the Democratic Party are the real extremists on this issue?
For the record, Clinton did vote No on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, and did so because she felt the bill would eventually lead to “…infringing on fundamental rights… imposing onerous burdens on women and their families…”. But Clinton has not campaigned on the right to kill 34 week-old babies. When Clinton discusses abortion, she uses the same pragmatic rhetoric that her husband former President Bill Clinton used by saying it should be “safe, legal and rare”. Furthermore, Hillary treats the discussion of abortion as an opportunity to discuss it in conjunction with women’s healthcare issues. This is obviously appropriate, because as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated in 2009 during her confirmation hearings, abortion is “unequivocally” a public health issue.
The last poll that showed Americans overwhelmingly do not support partial-birth abortion bans was conducted in 2003, the same year the Bill mentioned above passed. It’s probably safe to say that remains true except in cases of rape, incest and health of the mother. However, it should also be noted that according to what Gallup found in May of 2015, most Americans consider themselves “pro-choice”. Of course, Life News only focused on that 39% of respondents wanted it “legal in only a few circumstances” and 19 percent want abortion “illegal in all circumstances” (29% responded “legal under any circumstances and 13% responded “legal in most circumstances”). The point is, is this good enough of a reason for Republican presidential candidates to pivot further right on the issue of abortion? And will going further right on this issue revive the accusations that Republicans are engaged in a “war on women”?
My assumption is yes, for the following reasons. Republicans tried to paint President Obama as the same type of liberal abortion extremist in 2008 and 2012. We all know how that turned out. Furthermore, even the Planned Parenthood videos that furtively record employees talking about the fetal tissue donation process has not really changed Americans’ mind on Planned Parenthood. Rueters conducted a recent poll and found that 54 percent of respondents support federal funding for the women’s health organization (once again, Life News somehow took this as a victory and reported this as “the more Americans are familiar with the shocking videos showing the Planned Parenthood abortion business selling aborted babies and their body parts, the more likely they are to support de-funding the abortion company.”). Also, there is a case to be made that the more Republicans go on further to the right on this issue, the likelier they are to say something akin to “legitimate rape” or how pregnancy from rape is “…something God intended to happen“.
So yes, Republicans are going to continue to espouse anti-abortion rhetoric. And yes, their overall position on abortion is going to be even more conservative than the Romney/Ryan ticket was. But is this going to lead to a Republican win in 2016? In my estimation, it’s safe to say that Republicans may win the White House in 2016, but it won’t be because they tacked so far to the right on abortion.
Here is the video of Carson:
UPDATE: As always, Amanda did it better.