Senate Democrats made another mistake on abortion policy this week by pushing through an overly ambitious and purely symbolic package that went a lot further than Roe and also overturned the Partial Birth Abortion ban, the Hyde Amendment, and superseded any state regulation that would have been permitted under the Roe and Casey formulae.
While it is laudable that this ambitious bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, garnered 49 votes in the Senate, including the previously anti-Roe Bob Casey (D-PA), it also gives cover to right wing attacks that the Democrats are further left of the public on this issue while changing the conversation from the draconian policies Republicans are rapidly pursuing at the state and even the federal level. It also left pro-choice Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski out in the cold, while their own more moderate bill restoring the status quo could have at least been put up for a vote as well which would have attracted bipartisan support.
A majority of Americans are pro-choice and support Roe and Casey, but they are not pro-abortion and their support for the procedure becomes more ambivalent the later in the pregnancy one goes. The Partial Birth Abortion Ban received bipartisan backing in 2004 including from then Sen. Joe Biden. The Hyde Amendment also enjoyed similar support and both bills enjoy the support of a majority of voters.
I happen to disagree with the existing late term abortion ban since it is vague and lacks critical exceptions to protect the health of women while I also support federal funding for first trimester abortions which Hyde prohibits. I am grateful to live in a state that has not only codified abortion rights in the event Roe is overturned but also provides aid to women who cannot afford the procedure. That said, I recognize I am on the left of the median voter on this issue and so should Democrats as we face a critical midterm where our very democracy and the very right to choose is on the line.
Highlighting the extremism of the GOP can win us critical crossover voters, but taking extreme left wing positions as Beto O’Rourke, Raphael Warnock, Tim Ryan, Mark Kelly, and John Fetterman have taken could end up backfiring in purple states that are more lukewarm in their support for abortion rights. As the GOP continues its drift to the far right across the board, our party should remain a Big Tent that is open to anyone committed to preserving democracy, civil liberties, and the right to privacy.
Pro choice does not and should not mean being pro-abortion as some are now arguing, it should mean ensuring as President Clinton put it that the procedure remains safe, legal, and rare. Legal abortion is safe abortion and the Democrats have secured both while actually reducing the rate to the lowest it’s been in decades. We have to continue this both/and formula since it’s where the majority of voters are.