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    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Pro-lifers achieve a victory they can’t handle

    Andrew Sullivan tells us the Right ain't ready for what they've done:

    The trouble they face, however, is a profound one. When you have spent the past couple of decades arguing that the abortion of a day-old zygote is morally indistinguishable from the killing of a 10-year-old child, you have essentially rejected any possibility of a compromise.

    For the Republican party the dilemma is particularly acute. Karl Rove has reconstructed the party so that its core membership is that of evangelical Christians who believe politics should be governed by religious principles. These people can brook no compromise on the abortion issue and the gay issue. So they want a total ban on all abortions, and a constitutional ban on any legal protections for gay couples.

    Most Americans, however, want something far less drastic. A large majority favours either civil unions or civil marriage for gay couples. And a big majority wants more restrictive abortion laws but not an outright ban — let alone something as draconian as South Dakota’s. In the past Karl Rove could pander to the religious base, knowing that the Supreme Court would never allow the issue to actually matter, or the laws to actually change.

    He has now been hoisted on a faith-based petard. After South Dakota, the debate is transformed from an abstract discussion of whether you’re for “life” or for “choice” into a series of very practical questions. Should a doctor be prosecuted for first-degree or second-degree murder? Should the mother be prosecuted as well? How can we enforce an exception for rape or incest when we only have the word of a woman to that effect?

    That debate itself galvanises the pro-choice Democratic voter, and freaks out the moderate Republicans as well. Gay marriage bans only ever affected a small minority, so it was hard for a backlash to the backlash to gain ground. But not on the abortion issue.

    The lesson is an obvious one: be careful what you wish for. But the good news is that Americans will now have to abandon ideology for real politics: what can be done? How do we practically lower the abortion rate? How do we enforce abortion bans of varying degrees? That debate was prematurely ended three decades ago. The religious right and the Republican party may well regret that it is now poised to resume.

    I think he's absolutely right. And, even if just for strategy, the Dems would be smart to stick to a pro-choice platform. (I personally wish it were for more than strategy, but even that would be a nice change.) I am also happy that conservatives have backed themselves into a discussion of specifics and practicalities- it's when these issues come up that even people who think they're "pro-life" get freaked.

    One of the banes of American politics in the past 25 years or so has been the domination of ideology over pragmatism in political discourse. Sometimes it is invigorating: only in America do you still have a real, lively, evenly matched debate about whether gays are inferior to straights, whether the death penalty is a moral necessity, or whether embryonic stem-cell research is an abomination.

    But for people caught in the middle — gay couples wanting some legal protections short of marriage, people with Parkinson’s needing scientific stem-cell research to save their own lives, or women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy — the polarisation offers no relief.

    The safety valve is federalism, the constitutional system that allows different states to have different laws. And so in Massachusetts gay couples enjoy real equality under law — better than the British civil partnership compromise — while in Virginia they have reduced rights even to enter into private contracts. And President Bush can prevent federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, while California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can kick-start a massive programme designed to do exactly what the president abhors.

    This is the way it is supposed to work, and in a country that includes both San Francisco and Salt Lake City, Greenwich Village and Colorado Springs, it makes a lot of sense. In the 1960s and early 1970s abortion laws were similarly diverse, with most states moving towards a European-style compromise — allowing for legal first-trimester abortions with an array of restrictions on others.

    Then the Supreme Court stepped in, and in one of the more far-reaching cases in its history, Roe v Wade, ruled to designate abortion a constitutional right. And so, overnight, every state had to comply with the most liberal abortion regime imaginable. Even preventing the near-infanticide of late-term, partial-birth abortions became impossible. And the conservative Christian response to this piece of judicial overreach was critical to the emergence of what is now the religious right.

    I can only agree with this federalism to a point and that point is because I grew up in Colorado Springs and, only at adulthood, could I flee to Greenwich Village (okay, not exactly Greenwich Village, but the same city). I had the funds and the guts and the lack of ties or cares to move to a place that better fit my values, but a whole lot of people don't have that luxury or desire. If where one lived was exclusively tied to their politics ..., but that's simply not the case.

    And when Andy gets anti-choice, I feel so sad. I still think good queers should be good feminists. :)


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