Democrats need to change messaging on abortion
The nomination and likely confirmation of pro-life judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court ought to favor Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other Democratic candidates — because a majority of Americans favor a woman’s right to choose and don’t want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Instead, the Democrats’ current messaging will fuel pro-life Republican attacks on the Democrats, including accusations of infanticide. Already, Donald Trump’s tirade that Democrats are willing to rip babies from the womb was followed by a 17 percent swing of pro-choicers into the pro-life camp — a trend the Democrats are enabling with their rigid and uninformed stance on abortion, which fails to reflect the varied attitudes in the U.S., including in the pro-choice universe.
The Democrats’ platform states “We believe, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access … a safe and legal abortion.” Kamala Harris argues that the timing of an abortion should be left up to a woman and that no person has “the right to tell a woman what to do with that body … It is her decision.” Biden has called for “enshrining Roe v. Wade in federal law.” In the vice presidential debate, Harris failed to refute Mike Pence’s false claim that Biden and Harris support funding abortion “up to the moment of birth.”
Their fellow Democrats have not helped. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently tweeted “When we pass Medicare for All, we will be guaranteeing a woman’s right to control her own body by covering … abortion.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) couldn’t name any restriction on abortion that she supported.
The Democrats must change this approach if they want Barrett’s nomination to work to their advantage. According to recent polls, only 29 percent of Americans believe abortions should be legal under all circumstances; 50 percent felt it should be legal only under certain circumstances, and 20 percent felt it should always be illegal.
Although 69 percent believe only doctors with hospital admitting privileges should be allowed to perform abortions, Democrats oppose this restriction. So they need to explain why (that it’s part of an effort to cut access to abortions under the pretense of protecting women’s health, but isn’t based on a physician’s skill level, nor does it provide safety and health benefits, and patients of non-admitting doctors would nevertheless have access to hospitals if needed).
Sixty-six percent of Americans support requiring women to meet with a healthcare provider 24 hours before getting an abortion, and 57 percent prefer requiring women to see ultrasounds before deciding to get an abortion.
Ninety-four percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 59 percent of Republicans believe a woman’s decision should be made with their doctors, while 20 percent believe the government should dictate when abortions should be available.
Although 49 percent of Americans originally supported laws forbidding abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, that fell to 38 percent when they learned that a heartbeat could occur in the first six weeks of pregnancy.
Voter sentiment varies regarding the legality of abortions where the woman’s life is endangered and in cases of rape and incest and where the fetus is either not expected to survive or to have serious birth defects.
Americans are also split on whether employers with religious or moral objections to abortion should be forced to cover them in their medical plans.
The Democrats’ failure to recognize and accommodate these nuances will cost them votes. A July Gallup poll that found a quarter (24 percent) of Americans would vote only for a candidate that shared their views on abortion, and nearly half (47 percent) said a candidate’s position on abortion would influence their choice.
Democrats’ intolerance of pro-life views could also cost also them votes. Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic party, once admonished that “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choice about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.” That sort of blanket dismissal of alternative views could lose many votes, including from pro-life liberals, which could cost Biden the election in a close race.
Abortion, unlike nearly every other issue, is predominantly a moral or religious question, based on the belief that the human fetus is a human life. It’s a safe bet that the Democratic candidates and every pro-choicer would not object to a law that prohibits an abortion on the day of, the day before, or two days before birth. What about a week or a month? So, it’s a matter of when life begins, and the views of pro-lifers need at least to be respected.
Barrett’s nomination — and her almost certain confirmation — has made abortion policy more likely to influence American voters and could determine the outcome of the November election.
If the Democrats want it to work in their favor, they need to rethink their approach to reflect the varied opinions within the electorate — and show more respect for pro-life views.
Neil Baron advised the Securities and Exchange Commission and congressional staff on rating agency reform. He represented Standard & Poor’s from 1968 to 1989 and was vice chairman and general counsel of Fitch Ratings from 1989 to 1998. He also served on the board of Assured Guaranty for a decade.