The Corner

McCain’s Pro-Choice Women

Amy Sullivan has an article in Time on how McCain follows “the Republican presidential tradition of obscuring strong pro-life views with moderate rhetoric.” I have two nitpicks with, and a point to add to, her analysis.

The nitpicks: First, I don’t think it is true that there is a “pro-choice majority,” as Sullivan says. Polls asking people whether they would describe themselves as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” have generally found a small pro-choice plurality, but sometimes found a small pro-life plurality. Poll questions about the policies people prefer yield pro-life or pro-choice answers, depending on their wording.

Second, although everyone on every side of the debate says it, it is not true that the Republican platform calls for “a constitutional amendment to ban abortion in all cases.” At the most you could argue that the platform implies that all abortions should be banned. It is silent on the question of exceptions.

The additional point I would make is that her focus on pro-choice women and McCain misses at least half the picture. Sullivan relies heavily on a NARAL poll (which I’ve criticized before) about pro-choice women who support McCain. On finding out that he’s pro-life, they support him less. I don’t doubt that’s true. But Obama is going to get a lot of pro-lifers’ votes too. Every presidential candidate gets votes from people who disagree with him about abortion.

It is true, as Sullivan writes, that Republican candidates emphasize different aspects of their position to different audiences. With committed pro-lifers, they stress their agreement on the goal that unborn children should be protected in law. With more ambivalent voters, they stress that they do not approach this goal with revolutionary zeal. But it is also true that Democrats narrowcast their messages. Obama is not going to be making any speeches about his support for public financing of abortions. But he delivered that message by co-sponsoring the Freedom of Choice Act. Which type of spinning matters more? I would say that public funding under President Obama is much, much more likely to happen than a ban on abortions in the cases of rape and incest under a President McCain.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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