Politics & Policy

Abortion as a Tea Party Issue

Whatever one thinks about legal abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion is a bedrock issue.

Has our financial mess brought us to the brink of getting beyond the culture wars?

It’s a question that we might see play out on Capitol Hill in the coming months as the new majority seeks to make the late pro-life congressman Henry Hyde proud, by defunding Planned Parenthood and prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion.

#ad#“Hell no,” Speaker John Boehner said when he was in the minority, to the conscience-offending comprehensive health-care legislation that congressional Democrats and the White House insisted on. Now that he’s speaker, the first big vote under his watch was to repeal the president’s signature piece of legislation.

What do you do after a repeal — a repeal that is stalled in the obstinate Harry Reid–run Senate? Move on to HR-3, to do something that the old leadership claimed it had done: keep taxpayer money out of the business of funding abortion. As Boehner said while introducing HR-3: “A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people and ought to be the law of the land. But current law — particularly as enforced by this administration — does not reflect the will of the people.” For anyone who still isn’t sure we were lied to, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel made things clear on the campaign trail recently — just in time for the repeal vote and the rollout of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.”

Emanuel is now a candidate for mayor of Chicago. Pressed by a primary opponent, former senator Carol Moseley Braun, who accused him of throwing “women under the bus” — women who don’t oppose abortion, that is — Emanuel told a Chicago Tribune forum that he “came up with an idea for an executive order to allow the Stupak Amendment not to exist by law but by executive order, and it was good enough that Nancy Pelosi, Jan Schakowsky here in Chicago, Rosa DeLauro, Anna Eshoo — a number of women who are held — Nita Lowey — who are held up as honors by people like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who supported that bill and supported the way to make progress.” They were fine with it, of course, because there would be no real prohibition in the executive order.

Carol Moseley Braun got the truth out of Emanuel because he needs his base to win the campaign. But back on Capitol Hill, Boehner and other pro-life members have support that is much broader. We got a little hint of that in the enthusiasm among many freshman members for an effort to defund Planned Parenthood during this Congress.

“Ending taxpayer funding of abortion and getting Planned Parenthood’s hand out of the pocket of taxpayers are clearly crossover issues,” says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Social conservatives as well as fiscal conservatives can generally agree that the government has no business being in the business of funding or subsidizing abortion.” He adds a pat on the back for HR-3: “The new leadership is clearly up on their history. They know they have no room for equivocation — promise made must be promise kept, and that is what they doing.”

As I write, though, I can hear the critics, even among conservatives: There they go again — rosaries on my ovaries. Or, less crassly: Culture warriors on the march.

But you don’t have to agree with me in opposing legal abortion to see that HR-3 makes good common sense.

#page#“I think we need to redefine ‘culture war,’” says Matthew Spalding, author of We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future. “It usually means social issues fought out in politics. What the Left does not understand, and why they don’t understand the politics of the moment, is that many — perhaps most — see the administration’s agenda across the board to be an assault on America’s culture of self-government. In this sense, forced payment for abortions is not just or even primarily about abortion but about experts in Washington instructing us about how we make decisions about sensitive matters. The objection is the same as that against Obamacare in general.”

And while not every Tea Party activist agrees, Thomas J. Gaitens of Florida is among those who do. He goes out of his way to make clear that “the Tea Party movement has been purposeful in not getting into social issues, as not to dilute the fiscal, constitutional, and liberty focus; we do, however, see many ways we can impact this debate and remain steady with our positions.” Although concerned about keeping a coalition together, “to a person, irrespective of their own beliefs on abortion or other social issues, they are steadfast on the fiscal sanity that needs to be gained in Washington.” Gaitens absolutely agrees that such a person could naturally sign on to both the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” and nixing further grants to Planned Parenthood. Taxpayer funding for abortion — whether direct or through organizations such as Planned Parenthood — serves, he says, as “a prime example of government overreach.”

#ad#And don’t be distracted by those who tell you abortion funding is not actually about abortion but about women’s rights. As Teri Christoph, co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, puts it: HR-3 and defunding Planned Parenthood are “are without a doubt Tea Party issues because [that funding is] nothing more than special-interest giveaways.”

An excellent question for social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and plain old voters is the one Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation poses: “Why are U.S. taxpayers borrowing money at a record rate to, in part, provide grants to an organization, Planned Parenthood, which raised $388 million more than it spent from 2002 to 2007?”

He adds: “There might even be a rule there for Congress to consider — any nonprofit that applies for federal funds should be required to reveal its reserves and explain why the taxpayers and not the nonprofit should bear the cost of the activity the grant covers. The easiest way to get to this result, of course, is to defund the grant program until the nonprofit can demonstrate real need for its services.”

Sounds peachy to Ryan Hecker, who organized the Tea Party “Contract from America” and sees the new House leadership’s next step after repeal as a no-brainer: “Over the next two years, Congress must make many hard choices about how to rein in out-of-control spending and our national debt. This may include debates about ‘untouchable’ entitlement programs and whole executive departments, and unpopular and difficult decisions may need to be made. By contrast, the ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act’ is an easy one.”

If it’s the very future of the republic you’re worried about, ask yourself: Unless something has to be paid for by the taxpayers in order to protect or defend the Constitution, why not cut it?

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at klopez@nationalreview.com. This column is available exclusively through United Media.

Kathryn Jean Lopez — Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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