Hillary Clinton's anti-abortion strategy.

Science, technology, and life.
Jan. 26 2005 11:53 PM

Safe, Legal, and Never

Hillary Clinton's anti-abortion strategy.

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Abstain. Parents. Religious and moral values. The right thing. This is the way to shake up the Democratic position on abortion—not with tiny defensive concessions but with a big offensive to promote responsibility and bring down the abortion rate. Bush has used a similar strategy to commandeer the education issue. According to polls, it has worked.

A message of responsibility allows Democrats to turn the moral tables on the GOP. "I for one respect those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available," Clinton declared. Many reporters touted that line as an olive branch. They overlooked her next sentence: "But that does not represent even the majority opinion within the anti-abortion community. There are exceptions for rape and for incest, for the life of the mother." In other words, Clinton has read the polls. She knows that most people who oppose abortion think it should be allowed for rape victims, because these victims didn't choose to have sex. From a crude standpoint of sexual responsibility, they're innocent.

Clinton spent much of her speech excoriating the administration on this question. She blasted the Food and Drug Administration for dragging its feet on approving Plan B, a morning-after pill. Then she demanded that the Justice Department add discussion of such pills to its treatment protocol for rape survivors who "may have had an unwanted pregnancy physically forced upon them." Aiming at cultural conservatives as well as liberals, she asked, "How is it possible that women who have been so victimized by violence can be victimized again by ideology?"

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Above all, a message of responsibility breaks down the distinction between motherhood and contraception—the widespread attitude that there are two kinds of women: those who have babies and those who have birth control pills or, failing that, abortions. In reality, said Clinton, they are the same woman. "An average woman who wants two children will spend five years pregnant or trying to get pregnant and roughly 30 years trying to prevent pregnancy," she observed. You don't have to be against motherhood to line up behind birth control as the best anti-abortion strategy. You just have to be for it.