The Conservative Crackup

Kmiec's Abortion Folly
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Nov. 6 2008 1:40 PM

The Conservative Crackup

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Tucker, Douglas, Jim, Kathleen, and Christine,

I tend to think that the GOP's position on abortion is pretty low on the list of topics that conservatives should be fretting about at the moment: My impression is that the life issue (or the choice issue, if you prefer) had very little impact on either party's fortunes in this cycle. But since Douglas Kmiec suggests that conservatives could profit from Barack Obama's example on the issue, let me offer a few words in response.

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The trouble with seeking common ground on abortion is that the legal regime enacted by Roe and reaffirmed in Casey permits only the most minimal regulation of the practice, which means that any plausible "compromise" that leaves Roe in place will offer almost nothing to pro-lifers. Even the modest restrictions that prevail in many European countries (and that, not coincidentally, coincide with lower abortion rates) are out of the question under the current legal dispensation. This, in turn, explains why the national debate inevitably revolves around the composition of the Supreme Court and the either/or question of whether a president will appoint justices likely to chip away the Roe-Casey regime or justices likely to uphold it.

This state of affairs creates enormous frustration for pro-choice Republicans, a group in which I know some of the participants in this discussion count themselves, since it makes it next to impossible for pro-life primary voters to consider supporting a pro-choice candidate for the presidency or vice presidency. I think this frustration is somewhat misplaced, since to my mind any pro-choice American who sincerely seeks a national consensus on the subject of abortion should support overturning Roe and returning the issue to the democratic process—a position that I would have liked to see the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani experiment with, for instance, in his quest to become the GOP nominee. But I certainly understand why pro-choicers don't see things quite that way.

What I don't understand at all is Kmiec's position, which seems to be that the contemporary Democratic Party, and particularly the candidacy of Barack Obama, offered nearly as much to pro-lifers as the Republican Party does. I am sure that Kmiec is weary of being called a fool by opponents of abortion for his tireless pro-Obama advocacy during this election cycle, but if so, then the thing for him to do is to cease acting like the sort of person for whom the term "useful idiot" was coined, rather than persisting in his folly.

Those seeking a primer on the case against Kmiec's putatively pro-life position on Obama and abortion can begin here or here or here. Suffice to say that what he calls "outright lies and falsehoods" about Obama's views were, in fact, more or less the truth: The Democratic nominee ran on a record that can only be described as "very, very pro-choice," and his stated positions on abortion would involve rolling back nearly all the modest—but also modestly effective—restrictions that pro-lifers have placed upon the practice and/or appointing judges who would do the same. There may have been reasons for anti-abortion Americans to vote for Barack Obama in spite of his position that abortion should be essentially unregulated and funded by taxpayer dollars. But Kmiec's suggestion that Obama took the Democrats in anything like a pro-life direction on the issue doesn't pass the laugh test. (And nor, I might add, does his bizarre argument that because the goal of placing a fifth anti-Roe justice on the court is somehow unrealistic, the pro-life movement should pursue a far more implausible constitutional amendment instead.)

I suppose I could find a thing or three to agree with in Kmiec's longer list of ideas for how the party he abandoned could win back his vote. But frankly, I don't see the point. I understand that the pro-life position on abortion does not command majority support in the United States and that people of good will can disagree on the subject. And I have no doubt that the Republican Party can profit from greater dialogue between its pro-life and pro-choice constituents—and do a better job, as well, of addressing itself to both pro-lifers and pro-choicers who aren't already inside its tent. But I can't begin to fathom why the GOP should consider taking any advice whatsoever from a "pro-lifer" who has spent the past year serving as an increasingly embarrassing shill for the opposition party's objectively pro-abortion nominee.

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