Sullivan also writes, “Kerry on Abortion: A closet centrist? Steve Waldman thinks so.” Hold on to that question mark, Andrew.
Waldman’s article is about Kerry’s support for Tom Daschle’s alternative to the partial-birth abortion ban: a ban on post-viability abortions except when they would threaten the mother’s health. (Now would be a good time to mention that the last time I wrote about this bill, I got it slightly wrong: Here’s a critique of what I wrote then; the third paragraph of that critique is right, although I don’t accept the rest of it.)
Here are a few problems with the bill and the idea that it makes Kerry an abortion centrist:
1) It applies only after “viability,” thus leaving most partial-birth abortions untouched.
2) Under the bill, post-viability abortions would be allowed if “the continuation of the pregnancy would threaten the mother’s life or risk grievous injury to her physical health.” The words “grievous” and “physical health” make this sound like a tight restriction. It’s not, because there are no adverbs attached to “threaten” and “risk”: Any degree of risk nullifies the law, and an abortionist will always be able to say that there’s some risk. Dr. Warren Hern, a major practitioner of partial-birth abortion, said at the time, “I will certify that any pregnancy is a threat to a woman’s life and could cause grievous injury to her physical health.” Waldman doesn’t address this point: He thinks the pro-life objection to the bill is that abortionists will stretch the definition of “grievous injury.” They wouldn’t have to do that, because, again, any risk opens the loophole.
3) Kerry has also voted for other substitutes to the partial-birth ban–including ones that created an exception for mental health, which almost everyone understands would make a ban unenforceable.
4) But let’s say the law had teeth, and would ban some abortions. The Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence, which Kerry supports so strongly that he pledges to appoint no justices who will go back on it, pretty clearly means that the law would have to go. Declaring your support for laws and then declaring that you’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who will invalidate them doesn’t strike me as centrist. It’s more like trying to have it both ways.