Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard recently made some comments that give me a glimmer of hope for a turn in our abortion politics. Interviewer Dave Rubin, describing himself as “begrudgingly pro-choice,” explained that he seems to be evolving on the issue of abortion in the wake of the extremism we’ve been seeing recently, especially in regard to children born alive after a botched abortion. He noted that Gabbard has had an evolution of her own, having once described herself as pro-life. Gabbard explained that her military deployment to Iraq changed her perspective. She became more libertarian on the issue. “Government really shouldn’t be in that place of dictating to a woman the choice that she should make.” She then went on to say: “I would not make that choice. . . . But a woman should have the right to choose.”
On the surface, that’s a pretty standard Democrat position, akin to the declaration by Mario Cuomo, the late former New York governor, that he personally opposed to abortion. What good is private opposition in the face of the death of innocent life, the pitting of a mother against her child, the trail of misery that is legal abortion, with all the cultural pressures in favor of abortion?
But these days, it may just be a brave thing to say that you would not make that choice yourself. It may just be a courageous thing to have regret and sadness in your voice, as a Democrat. And then Gabbard did do something that matters, that’s a step toward some real leadership in her party. She drew a line in the sand, identifying the third trimester as a “cutoff point.” “Unless a woman’s life, or severe health consequences, is at risk, then there shouldn’t be an abortion in the third trimester.”
When considering Gabbard’s remarks, it’s important to bear in mind that we’re a long way away from Mario Cuomo. His son, as governor of New York, has derided pro-life citizens, and he campaigned a long time for the abortion-expansion legislation that he signed into law and celebrated in bright pink lights on the Freedom Tour this year. It’s also been a while since Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal, and rare” position on abortion. Gabbard, in the interview with Rubin, mistakenly attributed it to Hillary Clinton. But Hillary Clinton wouldn’t go there. I was waiting for that moment during the 2016 presidential election. I kept thinking, Surely this woman is going to tone down her extremism on abortion, surely she is going to make a play for pro-life people who were aching for an alternative to Donald Trump. But she never did. Instead, in the debates, she doubled down on her extreme position.
In Congress, Gabbard has chosen not to co-sponsor legislation to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a longtime ban on federal funding of abortion that Joe Biden has chosen to abandon — he won’t even stand up to radicals in his party. Gabbard also didn’t join in on legislation that would override state restrictions on abortion.
If Tulsi Gabbard feels called to be a reasonable voice on abortion in the Democratic party, I don’t envy her. Party powers are not apt to be kind to her. Planned Parenthood is the ideology of the party. But Planned Parenthood is having some trouble of its own right now. As a new Planned Parenthood president, a medical doctor, couldn’t even hold out even nine months, the length of a pregnancy, before being forced out — deemed a poor fit for the organization apparently because she wanted to downplay the abortion extremism in its rhetoric. If ever there were a moment begging for someone — and a woman would be a natural — to step up to the plate and lead in that party, it’s now.
Many American who describe themselves as pro-choice do not like or prefer abortion, they simply want to know that a pregnant woman with severe challenges or without resources will have options. Some choices for her involve pregnancy assistance of many kinds, including the possibility of adoption — things that we don’t talk about while we are screaming at one another over abortion. If you listen to the sound of her voice in that interview, Gabbard seems to want something better for America, she seems to know that America is better than our current abortion politics. People of good will should encourage her to use her the spotlight that her primary campaign affords her to be a trailblazer for more life-giving politics.
One of the most reasonable voices in the Democratic party is Michael Wear, who worked in President Barack Obama’s faith-based office. Earlier this year, he wrote an article for The Atlantic, “The Abortion Debate Needs Moral Lament.” In it, he observed:
Our politicians spend so much time with people who agree with them, using talking points cleared by or provided by entrenched advocacy groups and pursuing electoral strategies more reliant on base turnout than persuasion, that it has become difficult to tell if they have simply forgotten how to speak with people who hold a different viewpoint or if they simply do not care. So many of these controversies would be avoided if politicians were more familiar with different perspectives on abortion, and the arguments and sensitivities that undergird them.
Gabbard sounds like someone who understands, in part because she might have misgivings about the state of the Democratic party when it comes to abortion. She doesn’t have to declare herself pro-life again tomorrow — though there should be competition for the pro-life vote! — but she could propose some common-ground initiatives. She could talk about clearing obstacles for women and families. And people who consider themselves pro-life should encourage and welcome this. It would be good for the life of America.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.