Over the past few days, pro-choice commentary on the GOP's ostensible obstinacy on the issue of abortion has ramped up. "Haven't they learned from the 2012 election to steer clear of the social issues?" "That's why women don't vote for them." "If they keep talking about these things, they're just going to keep losing!"
Or so they say.
These criticisms have mounted as Congress prepares to vote on a bill later this week that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. (To clarify, that's toward the end of the second trimester.) Recent examples include yesterday's NYT article that unfoundedly asserted that the bill's purpose is just to "satisfy vocal elements of their base who have renewed a push for greater restrictions on reproductive rights, even if those issues harmed the party's reputation with women in 2012." And Irin Carmon over at Salon called this bill a mere "charade, one that turns women's lives into ritualistic political football." She also called the whole thing "political theater."
What the "enlightened" totally gloss over (perhaps willfully) is the glaring fact that abortion is actually a long-term winning issue for the GOP. To use leftist parlance: Republicans are "on the right side of history" on this one, as "progress marches on" for the pro-life position, at least according to statistics.
As has been well-reported, abortion is not in fact the leading cause of the existing gender gap—the reason why more women vote Democrat than Republican. Such a theory is insulting to women by degrading them to a block of voters who all think the same way and who all care about only abortion. What's more, the numbers just don't add up. In fact, Gallup polling shows women and men to be about equal in their views on the matter: From 2001-2008, 49% of women and 48% of men self-identified as pro-choice; from 2009-2012, those numbers went down to 45% and 43%, respectively.
These numbers indicate something else that's important: Self-identified pro-choicers are being chipped away by the increasing palatability of the pro-life position.
Perhaps increased technology has something to do with this shifting trend, as Matt Purple has pointed out in the past. But what's even more staggering are the numbers on second- and third-trimester abortions. According to Gallup's latest numbers, sizable majorities think both should be illegal: 64% for the former, 80% for the latter. The bill before consideration in Congress—which only affects third- and some second-trimester abortions—should be therefore be really popular. If the bill does not end up passing, it will only be due to left-wing propaganda labeling it as a set of supposedly "radical" restrictions on reproductive rights.
So it's a mistake to say that Republicans need to keep away from the cultural crusades. Perhaps on gay marriage, but definitely not on abortion. The mistake runs deep into our language: The entire political class -- left, right, and center -- engages in this vocabulary of "social issues," placing gay marriage and abortion in the same boat. The problem is that these are separate campaigns that have taken on separate courses. Their differing trends and divergent trajectories indicate as such, thus defying the accepted notion of there being a box of "social issues." There are now many people who support gay marriage but who also identify as pro-life.
And Republican leaders are fully aware of this phenomenon. Take, for example, last week's conference put on by the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, considered potential candidates for 2016, both doubled down on their commitment to the unborn, but neither mentioned gay marriage.
To be perfectly clear, even in the hypothetical case in which being pro-life were politically unwise, that still wouldn't be enough to change course on abortion. It is a matter of life and death, after all. And as Yuval Levin at NRO puts it, it would be as if "the people struggling to save the lives of innocent children ... should be 'fazed' into inaction by the 2012 election."
But the fact is that pro-life GOP leaders have nothing to fear on the matter. For being pro-life is now the politically intelligent choice.
The media would do well to remember that fact.
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