Abortion and the Political Process

I can’t think of a more divisive issue in the American political landscape today than abortion. Both political parties have struggled with this issue and how to address it since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 where the Supreme Court viewed abortion as a right to privacy held under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Never mind that this decision was convoluted, twisted in its legal reasoning and poorly written — since 1973 abortion has been the law of the land following the Court’s decision..

For Republicans, abortion has become the litmus test upon which nearly all candidates seeking elected office (particularly at the federal level) are measured. I can’t imagine a Republican candidate seeking election as president of the United States or seeking a presidential appointment to the United States Supreme Court surviving unless he or she is solidly pro-life.

Consider the fate of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. A hero for his leadership in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the mayor has been skewered in the media and by many on the right for his apparently pro-choice stance on the issue of abortion. I’m a big fan of the mayor’s, but his seemingly inconsistent statements regarding abortion have left many baffled and uncertain as to where his true thoughts and position on the matter actually lie. It remains to be seen whether one viewed as being pro-choice on the Republican side of the aisle can receive the party’s nomination for president. I could be wrong, but the mayor’s position on abortion, despite his strong leadership and management record, may well sink his candidacy.

Similarly, the Democrats have wrestled with abortion demons of their own. Given the strength and reemergence of the left wing of the Democratic Party, candidates for elected office — particularly for the presidency — have fought with this albatross around their necks as well. For some reason, many Democrats who had professed to be pro-life in their ideology (Al Gore, Jesse Jackson and Richard Gephardt immediately come to mind) veered hard to the left and adopted a pro-choice position to curry favor with voters as they sought the presidency.

Consider the recent Gonzalez v. Carhart decision from the United States Supreme Court. Never mind that Congress voted overwhelmingly to outlaw a gruesome procedure known as “partial-birth abortion.” Never mind that this procedure involves crushing and killing a human life that would be viable outside of the woman’s womb. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the partial-birth abortion law did not impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion and that the underlying Roe v. Wade decision remained the law of the land. Given the reaction of many prominent Democrats and advocacy groups, you’d think the Court had outlawed abortion and no longer allowed the practice and/or procedure.

Groups such as Planned Parenthood and most of the Democrats running for president in 2008 rushed to the microphones to proclaim the privacy rights of women were in danger or that the “right-wing” Court was close to turning back the clock on women’s reproductive rights — whatever that means. In fact, Planned Parenthood just released a statement today in which it announced it will rally in front of the debate site for tomorrow’s second Republican primary debate to support “women’s health and rights.”

Of course, the media appears to love the pro-choice movement and brand pro-life advocates as being right-wing or out of the mainstream. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hit it on the head recently when he noted that if one converts from pro-life to pro-choice, they make hardly a stir in the media. If one switches from being pro-choice to pro-life — well, that’s another story, a story that will question the motives and intent of someone having made an important moral and personal decision.

It is hard to imagine that a poorly written and legally flawed decision from 1973 could hold so much sway over the American political landscape nearly 35 years later. Yet here we are, with Democrats pandering to the left-wing base on one side of the aisle to protect women’s “health and privacy” when Roe v. Wade faces no danger of repeal, while Republicans with pro-choice views are unable to generate much support from conservative activists on the other side. Other than the war on terror and finding ways to win (Republicans) or withdraw in defeat (Democrats), abortion looms large over the political landscape for the 2008 electoral cycle.

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