Politics & Policy

Extremities and Enormities

The conjunction of the Todd Akin controversy with the Republican-platform hearings has enabled the media to follow one of its favorite scripts: My, aren’t those Republicans extreme on abortion.

The unshocking truth is that the Republicans are indeed to the right of public opinion on abortion, as the Democrats are to its left. The distance between the Democrats and the median voter on the issue is not a subject on which journalists in Washington, D.C., or New York City dwell much, because they themselves tend to be rather closer to the former.

Reporting on this gap might require, for example, explaining what the Supreme Court has actually held about abortion: that it is a constitutional right that cannot be effectively prohibited at any stage of pregnancy for any reason. The Court has held that abortion must always be available, even late in pregnancy, when it would serve a woman’s “emotional” or “familial” health.

Eighty-six percent of Americans in the last Gallup poll thought that abortion should be illegal in the third trimester. The vast majority of them have no idea that when President Obama insists that his Supreme Court nominees pledge fealty to the jurisprudence of reproductive rights, he means that these abortions should remain beyond the reach of the law. (Successful prosecutions of such abortions since Roe can be counted on one hand, and have required freakish circumstances to go forward.) Asked in 2003 about third-trimester abortions, Obama replied, “I’m pro-choice.”

The Democratic party insists not just that restrictions on abortion are unwise or mistaken, but that the Supreme Court should not allow them. The Republican party has never appointed justices, or called for appointing justices, who would block legislatures from allowing abortion.

The press, now busy drawing out possible logical implications of bills Paul Ryan has sponsored, has never conveyed the facts about Obama’s votes and statements on abortion. As a state legislator he opposed giving infants who survive abortion legal protection, on the theory that giving them protection might undermine the sacred holding of Roe. The press fell for every one of the 2008 Obama campaign’s conflicting attempts to explain away his stance.

Obama opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion that most Americans and even many Democratic legislators favored; he believed the Court should not allow it. During his campaign he explained that he believed that abortion should receive taxpayer funding — another fact that the press has kept well hidden.

As president, he has appointed two justices to the Supreme Court on the condition (to take his earlier words to heart) that they not reconsider the constitutional validity of Roe. He has opposed a ban on abortions for sex selection, putting him out of step with the vast majority of Americans. And he apparently opposes a bill to ban late-term abortions in Washington, D.C.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama was asked when he thought that a baby gained human rights. He said it was above his “pay grade.” From his record we can infer that his answer is: some time after birth.

Mitt Romney’s view — that we should allow abortion policy to be set democratically, and within democratic fora work toward the end of abortion with exceptions for rape and incest — is light years closer to the median voter than is Obama’s position. That’s a scoop no reporter is going to get a Pulitzer for.


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