Politics & Policy

How to Debunk the ‘War on Women’

Forget gender politics and focus on the winning policies.

What is it about women that causes leading Republicans to grow clumsy, if not stupid? When even savvy, fluent, attractively populist Mike Huckabee stumbles, you know you’ve got trouble. Having already thrown away eminently winnable Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana because of moronic talk about rape, the GOP might have learned. You’d think.

Huckabee wasn’t quite as egregious, just puzzling and a bit weird. Trying to make a point about Obamacare mandating free contraceptives, he inexplicably began speculating that the reason behind the freebie was the Democrats’ belief that women need the federal government to protect them from their own libidos.

Bizarre. I can think of no Democrat who has ever said that, nor any liberal who even thinks that. Such a theory, when offered by a conservative, is quite unfortunately self-revealing.

In any case, why go wandering into the psychology of female sexuality in the first place? It’s ridiculous. This is politics. Stick to policy. And there’s a good policy question to be asked about the contraceptive mandate (even apart from its challenge to religious freedom). It’s about priorities. By what moral logic does the state provide one woman with co-pay-free contraceptives while denying the same subvention to another woman when she urgently needs antibiotics for her sick child? 

The same principle of sticking to policy and forswearing amateur psychology should apply to every so-called women’s issue. Take abortion, which is the subtext of about 90 percent of the alleged “war on women,” the charge being that those terrible conservative men are denying women control of their reproductive health.

The charge has worked. Although the country is fairly evenly split on the abortion question, the Republicans’ inability to make their case in respectful tones has cost them dearly. In 2012, they lost unmarried women by 36 (!) points.

Yet there is a very simple, straightforward strategy for seizing the high ground on abortion in a way that transcends the normal divisions and commands wide popular support: Focus on the horror of late-term abortion — and get it banned.

Last year’s Kermit Gosnell trial was a seminal moment. The country was shown a baby butcher at work and national sentiment was nearly unanimous. Abortion-rights advocates ran away from Gosnell. But they can’t hide from the issue.

And the issue, as most succinctly defined by the late liberal senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is infanticide. Describing one form of late-term abortion known as partial-birth, Moynihan said, “I had once remarked that the procedure was too close to infanticide. And now we have testimony that it is not just too close to infanticide, it is infanticide.” How else to describe crushing the infant’s skull in mid-delivery before the head leaves the birth canal?

Conservatives need to accept that no such consensus exists regarding early abortions. Unlike late-term abortions, where there are clearly two human beings involved, there is no such agreement regarding, say, a six-week-old embryo.

There remains profound disagreement as to whether at this early stage the fetus has acquired personhood or, to put it more theologically, ensoulment. The disagreement is understandable given that the question is a matter of faith.

This doesn’t mean that abortion opponents should give up. But regarding early abortions, the objective should be persuasion — creating some future majority — rather than legislative coercion in the absence of a current majority. These are the constraints of a democratic system.

Not so regarding a third- or late-second-trimester abortion. Here we are dealing with a child that could potentially live on its own — if not killed first. And killing it, for any reason other than to save the mother’s life, is an abomination. Outlawing that –– state by state and nationally — should be the focus of any Republican’s position on abortion.

A test case for this kind of policy-oriented political strategy is the governor’s race in Texas: Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate, has a complicated personal history. Stop talking about it. (Her capacity for veracity is a legitimate issue, but for God’s sake why go into her parenting choices? That’s a snare and a distraction.) Talk policy — specifically the issue that brought Davis to national prominence.

What was her eleven-hour filibuster about? Blocking a state law whose major feature was outlawing abortions beyond 20 weeks. Make that the battlefield. Make Davis explain why she chose not just to support late-term abortion but to make it her great cause.

Stay away from the minefield of gender politics. Challenge the other side on substance. And watch them lose.

Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post Writers Group

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