John Kerry surprised even his most ardent supporters recently by flip-flopping twice within a 24-hour period. They weren’t so much surprised by the fact that he flip-flopped, the number of flip-flops, or the speed of the flip-flops–rather, they were surprised by the subject matter of the flip-flops: abortion.
Kerry had suggested that he’d consider appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court provided such appointments wouldn’t tilt the Court’s pro-choice majority. The pronouncement was at odds with Kerry’s position throughout the campaign that he would use a pro-choice litmus test for judicial appointments.
The next day, after a minor media tempest, Kerry reverted to a no-pro-life-nominees-need-apply stance.
Although Kerry backers may have been bewildered by his momentary departure from pro-choice orthodoxy, they weren’t particularly alarmed. Abortion-rights groups quickly issued statements generally supportive of their candidate. After all, if there’s one issue that Kerry hasn’t treated like a pair of uneven parallel bars, it’s abortion.
For a brief period at the outset of his political career, Kerry did insist that the issue of abortion should be left to the states. But the nation’s most liberal senator rapidly became an abortion-rights stalwart, with perhaps the most consistent pro-choice record over the last 20 years of anyone in Congress.
As a freshman senator, Kerry declared abortion a basic human right and later asserted that abortion should move “into the mainstream of medical practice.” His voting record matched his rhetoric: He voted six times against bills that would have banned partial-birth abortions, maintaining that there’s no such thing as a “partial birth.” Kerry’s votes against the ban are especially striking given his reputation as one who votes in conformance with the polls: 70 percent of the public supports the ban.
Kerry has also voted three times against bills requiring parental consent or notification for a minor to get an abortion. He also opposed making it a federal crime for anyone other than a parent to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion.
While he’s invoked Bill Clinton’s line about making abortion “safe, legal, and rare,” the consequences of Kerry’s votes would logically result in anything but the last. Not only did Kerry vote at least 25 times in favor of using taxpayer funds to pay for abortions in the U.S., he vehemently opposed President Bush’s restriction on federal funds to groups providing abortion counseling overseas. When Larry King asked Kerry what his first executive order as president would be, his response had nothing to do with issues such as the war on terror, the economy, education, or health care. Instead, Kerry replied, “Remove the Mexico City policy on the gag rule (regarding funding for abortion counseling) so that we take a responsible position on family planning.”
Moreover, Kerry voted to kill an amendment prohibiting the United Nations Population Fund from providing funds to organizations in China involved in coercive abortions and involuntary sterilization. He also voted against an amendment to prohibit federal funds from being used to perform abortions or provide abortion referrals at elementary and secondary schools.
Kerry once maintained that “liberals spend too much time pushing issues” like abortion. Nonetheless, he told the Washington Post that he would make abortion a “defining issue” in debates with President Bush.
No doubt he will. This is one issue on which Kerry isn’t nuanced. Despite polls showing that 80 percent of voters support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (“Laci and Conner’s Law”), Kerry opposed it. And he didn’t even vote for it before he voted against it.
–Peter Kirsanow is a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.