If ever was there a time for leadership on abortion in the Democratic party, it is now. Every day I talk with Americans still looking for a presidential candidate. Many find themselves unable in good conscience to vote for either of the two major parties’ official candidates. And some change in commitments on abortion could make a difference.
Perhaps that’s why Hillary Clinton made reference to an “unborn person” on Meet the Press this spring. This showed some awareness that there are people she and her party completely alienate because of radicalism on abortion. However, even if the change of language was intentional, the policy and politics haven’t changed. Hillary hasn’t actually given an inch. You see this in her refusal to make a move to invite people for whom abortion is a matter of life and death to consider what a priority it is to her and her party.
Although Bill Clinton twice vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortion, the “safe, legal, and rare” language of the Clintons’ White House years acknowledged the fact that sonograms make it harder to deny that there may be something that looks a lot like human life going on in a mother’s womb way before delivery.
And yet, even with that language, the pro-choice rallies over the last decade have told us there is not a lot of tolerance for anything like what many Americans might consider reasonable restrictions on abortion. And Planned Parenthood and others have gone further than ever in showing their intentions on abortion. They have long sought to put the Hyde Amendment on the chopping block. As long as we have had Republican speakers of the House, that wasn’t happening. But with a Catholic vice-presidential candidate giving cover for the position, this past week Planned Parenthood tweeted, “The Hyde Amendment isn’t just bad policy — it’s unpopular. Americans want abortion coverage for all!” with the hashtag #BeBoldEndHyde.
The Hyde Amendment is about government funding of abortion. “Be Bold” in this case is hubris. And it’s bad politics — if you’re honest about it.
Instead, Planned Parenthood buttresses its anti-Hyde campaign with a poll from Hart Research Associates that poses the proposition: “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” Health coverage? What Hyde actually does is keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. When you ask that question, as Marist did in July in polling commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, you learn that two-thirds of Americans agree that Hyde is good policy.
“Safe, legal, and rare” talk recognizes that Americans are a generous people who could never be completely comfortable with abortion. Many tolerate it because they want to know that a woman who is in a tough situation has a way out. Of course, ways out could include life-affirming choices like adoption, and for the sake of defending human life and motherhood and families, we should do everything we can to make sure women know that there are people in their communities and nationally who will support them in these choices.
As lazy a slander as it is to say that pro-lifers care only about life in the womb, much of the country knows the pro-life movement only for what it is against. Most people certainly don’t know the faces and names and addresses of people who will walk with women and give them the help they need — I think of the Sisters of Life and Women Care Centers and so many maternity homes and crisis-pregnancy centers. These certainly are not household names like Planned Parenthood.
But imagine for a moment that Hillary Clinton, instead of being the abortion industry’s dream candidate — celebrated by Planned Parenthood with the Margaret Sanger award — committed to codifying the Hyde Amendment, so that this ceased being a matter of endless miserable debate. And what if she said that Planned Parenthood should no longer receive federal funding? She’d show some leadership of the kind we’ve long needed.
Meanwhile, the broader debate needs to be freed of rhetoric that gets nowhere because in our partisan environment politicians operate with two sets of facts.
Imagine for a moment that Hillary Clinton, instead of being the abortion industry’s dream candidate committed to codifying the Hyde Amendment.
While he was Speaker of the House, then–Republican congressman John Boehner of Ohio argued that making Hyde law once and for all would have made for a more transparent debate over Obamacare. Instead, we have a reality where the Little Sisters of the Poor are compelled to fight an endless legal battle because the Democrats won’t put their cards on the table.
The party platforms are, of course, set — and the Democrats’ allegiances are clear. But this has been a wild election campaign. Why shouldn’t something else out of the ordinary happen?
Hillary Clinton isn’t going to change her position on abortion tomorrow. But she could offer an olive branch, and a real one. Be honest, disentangle the government, and let the cultural debate be had without endless political shouting matches. It would be a start — a baby step toward a healthier politics.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of NR. She is a co-author of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.