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July 27, 2004



I'd respond with an entirely different line of reasoning. If you think abortion is evil and we should try to minimize the number of abortions that take place, there are many reasons to believe the Democratic party is for you. If you'd rather hear nice pro-life speeches, the Republican party in probably better.

A strong case could be made that Democratic policies are more likely to actually reduce the number of abortions that occur in this country than Republican policies. First of all, the Republican party (not all individual politicians) don't actually want to outlaw abortion, because they know it would be a political nightmare for them. Many of them are glad, I think, that Senate Democrats will probably block anti-Roe SCOTUS nominees. It allows them to play to their pro-life base, but limits the extent to which pro-choice moderates feel threatened. They propose bills limiting abortion, but very rarely do they actually try to get those bills through by expending political capital. Those bills are generally for show. The partial-birth abortion ban was perhaps an exception, but notice how one of their selling strategies was that it would impact very few abortions. Furthermore, the language of the bill is intentionally vague and non-medical, so they can sell it as expansive to the pro-life base, but they know it will almost certainly be interpreted and enforced narrowly. The Republican party is very good at telling pro-life people what they want to here, but (intentionally) terrible at delivering.

Secondly, the sociological evidence suggests that abortion is a lot like drugs--making them illegal doesn't really seem to do much good in terms of eliminating them from society. If you look at pre-Roe US, most states had laws against abortion except under very narrow circumstances--rape, life of mother, etc. However, these were never even close to enforced. For the middle class and up, abortions were readily available through "grey markets," performed by family physicians under safe conditions, often with a paper trail in the hospital records. The dangerous "coat hanger" abortions were only really for the poor. Communities generally tolerated police crackdowns on the latter, but any attempt to interfere with the grey market for abortions was unpopular in most places, and seen as a dangerous political move. So criminalizing abortion just didn't do much good. Somewhere between 20-35% of all pregnancies between 1900-1970 were aborted--but access to safe abortions was entirely enequal. Instead of eliminating or signifigantly reducing the number or abortions, their illegality only served to make them less safe for the poor.

Furthermore, Democrats are more likely support practical policies that reduce abortions than Republicans are. For example, they're more likely to support funding for serious sex education that includes birth control, not just abstinence. The evidence of the greater effectiveness of these programs is not in much doubt. Better sex ed=fewer unwanted pregnancies=fewer abortions. It's that simple. Also, Democrats are more likely to protect and less likely to attack the social safety net that might help poor women and families get by. If people are less afraid they won't be able to feed and clothe their future children, they're less likely to abort them.

Larry Harvey

These are important arguments. Maybe the thing that carries most weight with me is djw's point:

"Furthermore, Democrats are more likely support practical policies that reduce abortions than Republicans are." That matters a great deal. The perennial problem: do we just want to sound good and feel "holier than thou", or do we really want to DO some good. By their FRUITS you will know them.


This post strikes me as a cop-out. I'm wishy-washy on abortion, myself, but if I thought first trimester abortion was murder, that issue would trump all else. So 1,000 American servicemen died fighting a terrorist regime in Iraq over the past year and a half. Big deal! That's nothing compared to upwards of 1,000,000 American babies being legally murdered at home during the same period. The soldiers probably saved other lives in the process, and even if they didn't, at least they signed up for the job voluntarily.

"Big picture" Democrats who consider abortion murder but give pro-abortion Democrats a pass are nothing like gays who spot the Republicans the gay marriage issue for the time being in exchange for lower taxes. A better analogy would be to Jews for Hitler, who of obviously opposed his position on concentration camps, but voted for him anyway because the liked his plans for the Autobahn.

All this assumes, of course, that you DO consider abortion to be equivalent to murder. If your objection to abortion is based on something else, all bets are off.


Even if you don't consider abortion "trumps," I'm not sure that the Dems are really better on the other "seamless garment" issues. They seem much more willing to embrace euthanasia. On capital punishment it's about a wash (and not something the president can do a great deal about anyway). The one thing that tempts me to vote for Kerry is the Iraq war, but Kerry seems, at times anyway, to be trying to run to Bush's right on the war (e.g. more troops in Iraq, "taking the fight to the enemy," embracing pre-emption, etc.).


Thanks DJW -- a thoughtful post. I disagree with the analysis but you did make me pause and consider a side to this debate I hadn't before. One of the reasons I appreciate Hugo's blog is that he refuses to malign those with whom he disagrees, nor does he ascribe motives to them. As he has said to me on a number of ocassions: "I can believe those who disagree with me are decent, thoughtful and committed to good, but fundamentally wrong."

Larry, alluding to scripture to implicate those with whom you disagree is not very helpful.



Lee, normally you'd be right about the Death Penalty, but IIRC, Kerry, unlike Clinton and Gore, is opposed to the death penalty more or less categorically. Sure, he doesn't have much power on this issue, but I think that's true of abortion as well.

Stephen, thanks. I agree about the blog; you can tell Hugo must be a good teacher because through his ability to get people to be so civil and respectful on such touchy issues.

Oh, and enequal=unequal.


But Hugo, I really wanted you to post about this:

Via Annika...


DJW, I believe you're right about Kerry and the death penalty (actually, I think he's said he would make an exception for terrorists). Nevertheles, I think a president still has more influence over abortion policy than death penalty policy. The latter is pretty much entirely left to the states (federal crimes excepted). On the other hand, there's a lot a president can do on abortion: incremental bans such as the partial-birth abortion ban, not to mention things like the born alive infants protection act. And there's the whole issue of the Supreme Court...


Lee, fair enough. Although I'd like to dream of the Supremes correcting their 1976 error someday....


Here, I have a worse choice. Its a tough, socially liberal Tory, (Whose party I am a Youth Member of) or a tough, socially conservative Socialist. I might end up gritting my teeth and voting Labour, at least for one of our two votes. Me-ticking a Red box-I'll have to shut my eyes and stab.

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