Politics & Policy

Dreaming about Another Kind of Hillary Clinton

(Joe Raedle/Getty)
Toward a smarter, healthier abortion politics.

Do you ever daydream about Hillary Clinton?

My friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru did once. It’s how he opened the first chapter of his book, The Party of Death, some years ago.

“She is at the podium, well into a campaign speech. The audience is more than sympathetic.” She was probably, he writes, talking to a National Organization for Women or Democratic National Convention kind of crowd.

Ramesh published that book in 2006. Little did he know that by 2012, the Democratic National Convention would be something of an all-out abortion rally, with speaker after prime-time speaker seeming to declare allegiance to the cause. But I digress. Back to the dream.

Ramesh goes on to do some excellent speechwriting for Senator Clinton. He has her talking about domestic violence, rape awareness, the so-called glass ceiling, and child care.

She goes on, in this fictional address:

And we’ve fought for something else, too. No woman should ever find herself in jail because an unplanned pregnancy has left her desperate. We don’t make criminals out of pregnant women in America. The Supreme Court guarantees that. If ideologues in the other party try to change that, we will fight them every step of the way.

In his dream, the crowd now chants: “HILLARY! HILLARY!”

And then she says:

But that doesn’t mean we’re for abortion. Don’t let anyone pretend that’s what we stand for! Abortion is a tragic choice. We want to liberate women. Abortion is a sign that our society is pitting them against their children.

Now the audience isn’t entirely sure what to do.

And, for the record, I am so with you, Hillary of Ramesh’s dreams.

I found myself recalling Ramesh’s dream the other day when I read Nancy Pelosi’s interview with Roll Call editor Melinda Henneberger. The former speaker of the House — the first woman to hold that position — didn’t really give much to the pro-life movement. She did say that she is not for “abortion on demand,” but she also made clear that she opposes pro-life efforts to protect women and children with some restrictions on abortion — she had just signed onto an amicus brief protesting a pro-life Texas law.

So she pretty much remained the stalwart she has been known as on the issue. She even went on about Republican men and contraception — a distracting story line that has worked well for her cause in the face of substantive debates about religious liberty. And yet, NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion-advocacy group, reprimanded her.

What a beautiful thing it would be if Pelosi pushed back against the NARAL types. To have a little dream of my own: She would insist that, indeed, the Democratic party should not be for abortion on demand, and should work with all people of good will for ways to find alternatives for women who find themselves pregnant in seemingly impossible situations.

She would go on to say something of the sort that Ramesh had Hillary saying in his dream:

I’ll admit that like many Americans, my thinking on this issue has changed over the years, and what I’m about to say may trouble some of my oldest friends and allies. I think maybe we’ve been so busy fighting the people who want to throw women in jail that we’ve somehow lost sight of the fact that abortion is a terrible act of violence against the young. If the law can discourage it — without, I want to repeat, making criminals out of women — then we ought to consider it. We ought to have laws that involve parents in their children’s decisions, for example.

I’ll add something here: I know a lot of pro-life leaders, am good friends with many. I’ve spoken to and otherwise been involved with many of the major national pro-life groups, including the National Right to Life Committee, Students for Life of America, Americans United for Life, Feminists for Life, and the U.S. Catholic bishops (who have led the march for protecting the unborn ever since the judicially imposed Roe v. Wade regime began in 1973). I’ve never known any of these groups to believe that jailing women is desirable — never mind a priority.

As I read Pelosi’s little rant about Republican men and contraception, I thought about how ungracious it is for NARAL to have gotten mad at her. The idea that Republicans, conservatives, Catholics, Mitt Romney, and so on somehow are waging a war on women, one that includes wanting to take away access to contraceptives (one of the most ubiquitous things in the world, as any after-school special involving embarrassing teen drugstore runs makes clear), is simply a fallacy. It is akin to claiming that some basic measures to take taxpayer funding out of an ugly business — or to protect the religious liberty of, say, nuns who serve the elderly poor and want nothing to do with insurance coverage of abortion, contraception, and sterilization — are something other than what they are: protecting basic freedoms.

In the Hillary dream, she ends with:

I’m not saying that I have all the answers. I don’t. But I think states ought to be able to try different approaches to protect women and children. And I think the Supreme Court ought to let them. Because America deserves better than abortion, and America deserves better than this fight we’ve been having for over a generation. And I’m willing to work with anyone, in either party, who wants to move past that fight.

Ramesh concludes, “I realized that if Hillary Clinton ever made that speech, she would be elected president of the United States.”

This coming Friday, hundreds of thousands of young people will descend upon Washington, D.C., for the 43rd time to protest Roe v. Wade, under the theme “Pro-Life and Pro-Women Go Hand in Hand.” As others have put it, and as many on the front lines live it: We can love them both. As the dream-sequence Hillary put it: “We deserve better than the miserable, immiserating politics of abortion in America.”

Ramesh’s Hillary has the right idea. Nancy Pelosi could run with it. No one wants abortion on demand. In a day of heightened sensitivity to violence, no one wants this most intimate violence — do we?

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