In 2003, as part of his campaign for a Senate seat from Illinois that would set him up for his presidential run, Barack Obama fielded questions. “I am pro-choice,” he said, so a local reporter prodded, “In all situations, including the late-term thing?” Obama pushed past that explosive question, and repeated himself: “I am pro-choice. I believe that women make responsible choices and they know better than anybody the tragedy of a difficult pregnancy and I don’t think that it’s the government’s role to meddle in that choice.”
Conservative critics play up the supposed radicalism of Obama, but in this respect, he is a boringly and ghoulishly conventional modern Democrat. Obama has consistently stood against any legal limitations to abortion. He has gone so far as to oppose legislation while he was in the Illinois state house that would have extended legal protections to fetuses accidentally born during abortions — or, as most of us would call them, live babies.
Obama the legislator earned a 100 percent voting record on the issue. As president, he has expanded government-mandated and controlled healthcare that pays for the morning-after pill and that leaves the door open to a later abortion funding mandate. This has horrified the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, among many other groups. Opponent Mitt Romney has charged that it amounts to a bureaucratic war on religion. Nonplussed, Obama and his supporters have fired back that Romney and fellow Republicans are pursuing a war against women by supporting some curbs on abortion.
Some of the war on women rhetoric is truly funny for its utter disconnect with reality. Future historians, I nominate this piece of rubbish from the venerable leftist British magazine the New Statesman for taking the cake. The cover story of the latest issue warns us that “Romney has said he would be happy to sign a law making all abortion illegal in all circumstances, including cases of rape and incest and when the procedure is necessary to protect a mother’s health. If that were to happen, Mexico and Canada (perhaps the UK, too) would become medical refugee destinations for those who can afford the air fare. American women who travel abroad to abort can expect to be arrested for murder on their return.”
Of course Romney, a late and halting convert to the pro-life position, has said and would do no such thing. He would decline to do so not just because it would be political death but because that heavy-handed approach is anathema to the type of politics Republicans pursue on almost every other issue. On matters domestic, Republicans profess support for lower taxes, less fettered markets, fewer burdensome regulations, school reforms that favor the rights of parents. They are, in other words, a truly pro-choice party.
Indeed, the rhetoric of choice sounds odd when coming from most Democrats, who favor more stringent government intervention and regulation in nearly every sphere of life. As a party, Democrats are not pro-choice on what light bulbs you should be allowed to use, spending public school funds to enroll children in private or charter schools or how much water your toilet ought to be able to flush down in one go. But on abortion, they’re suddenly staunch civil libertarians.
This contradiction is a product of a historical mismatch. In 1973, when Roe v. Wade was handed down making abortion-on-demand the law of the land, more Democrats than Republicans polled as pro-life. But Republicans were the party that protested many heavy-handed judicial decisions. The rising liberal wing of the Democratic Party tended instead to genuflect to them, and so people resorted into different parties over the next 40 years. Nancy Pelosi fanned the flames of this old faith in 2005 when she declared that when the Supreme Court has handed down a ruling, it’s “almost as if God has spoken.” If that pronouncement had come out of a Republican’s mouth, Democrats would be quick to accuse her of theocracy. But such is the state of our confusing and contradictory politics in the Year of Our [Censored] 2012.