Politics & Policy

California Women’s Prison Movie

Barbara takes out her boxing gloves on abortion.

‘Carly Fiorina would make abortion a crime.”

With a single word, California Democratic senator Barbara Boxer may have shattered a glass ceiling in American politics: In using the scarlet A-word, “abortion,” Boxer has done something rhetorically unusual — at least for a politician who favors abortion on demand.

As Chuck Donovan, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-author of Blessed Are the Barren: A Social History of Planned Parenthood, puts it: “I don’t know if I can remember any ad where the A-word was used by an advocate.” The idea, usually, is to sound mainstream. Abortion may be legal, but it doesn’t make people feel comfortable to talk about it; better, therefore, to use such euphemisms as “pro-choice” and “Planned Parenthood.”

Abortion-industry groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, are Boxer’s loyal army in the battle to keep her Senate seat, the latter having announced it will spend at least a million dollars in the effort. In the wake of the California primary, NARAL’s political director said: “Pro-choice Americans may have no stronger ally in the U.S. Senate than Senator Barbara Boxer. Year after year, Sen. Boxer has stood with women against the continuous assaults on our right to choose from anti-choice senators.”

Boxer is running in California, so use of the A-word makes sense to Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia: “I think Boxer fully realizes what a close race she is in.” Abortion is one of the best defining issues that Boxer has.

But there could be a political danger in this strategy, even in California. “Since fiscal issues dominate every poll of women in California (and nationwide), spending even a nanosecond on abortion in a 15-second spot screams, ‘I am out of touch; send me packing — please!’” warns Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway. Further, “the use of the word ‘abortion’ shows how tone-deaf she is to her own supporters. The abortion-rights crowd hates it because it reminds everyone what the product of the ‘choice’ really is.” So while Boxer calls the other gal extreme, the word fits her well.

Boxer’s ad shows prison bars, suggesting, as pro-abortion extremists have been known to do, that the fact that Fiorina is pro-life means that she wants to send women to jail for abortions. Earlier this summer, in fact, Boxer’s campaign manager said just that: “Carly Fiorina is so extreme that she would make abortion illegal and turn women and doctors into criminals.”

Liz Mair, a spokesman for the Fiorina campaign, calls the charge “a total distortion.” She explains Fiorina’s actual views, and contrasts them with Boxer’s: “Carly thinks we can and should curtail the tragic practice of abortion, not punish women — a mainstream position — whereas Barbara Boxer has voted five times against a ban on partial-birth abortion, supports taxpayer funding of abortion, and thinks a baby only acquires rights when it arrives home from the hospital.”

The reference to partial-birth abortion is a significant one. When former Pennsylvania Republican senator Rick Santorum asked Boxer whether she “would accept the fact that once the baby is separated from the mother, that baby cannot be killed,” she couldn’t answer the question.

When you’re an activist for abortion — and have become necessarily immune to the horror of it — you end up accepting ideas that are not just wrong in themselves, but also horrifying to most of your fellow citizens. So, whether Boxer wins or loses, her frank use of the A-word may have significant fallout for the “right to choose” movement.

Carly Fiorina, for her part, offers more than rhetoric. She offers a human story — who is standing right next to her.

She tells interviewers that her husband, Frank, could very easily have fallen victim to abortion. “My mother-in-law was told to abort her child, who became my husband. She chose something different, obviously, and that made all the difference in her life and mine and certainly his,” Fiorina has said. “She spent a year in the hospital after his birth. My husband is the joy of her life, and he is the rock of my life. So those experiences have shaped my view. . . . I recognize that a lot of women disagree with me on [abortion]. But I also know that women in general are not single-issue voters.” 

That sounds like the voice of a reasonable person. Boxer appears ready and willing to challenge that. All credit to her for her honesty. In an environment where taxpayer funding of abortion has been increased by manipulative White House and Democratic rhetoric, it’s welcome. In a country that is increasingly reasonable, Barbara Boxer keeps making that scarlet A brighter. Not that she has to — her record says it all. It’s the icing on her out-of-touch campaign cake. And it may just not be the Golden ticket this year — even in California.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at klopez@nationalreview.com. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt it, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

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