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Monday, December 09, 2019

Reproductive Rights
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What is the pro-life movement? I've always imagined it to be broader than just efforts to make abortion illegal. In the wake of the 2022 elections, in which voters rejected candidates whose abortion postures were perceived as extreme, those who care about the welfare of unborn children might want to rethink their focus.

Arguably, the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision has been a legal tangle. A number of states had adopted so-called "trigger laws" during the regnancy of Roe v. Wade, specifying that if and when Roe was overturned, abortion would be restricted in a variety of ways. Idaho's law, for example, prohibited abortions except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother. Louisiana's law did not permit exceptions in cases of rape or incest, but only for the life of the mother or "serious permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ of the pregnant woman." Utah's law contains an exception for "severe fetal abnormality." In 11 states, bans have been blocked by courts. Litigation continues and is likely to persist for years as courts grapple with cases that reveal the limitations and ambiguities of the laws.

In Ohio, a ten year-old rape victim was forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion. Pro-lifers initially thought the story was invented, but it was true. Ohio's law, like Louisiana's, permitted abortion when a "medically diagnosed condition ... so complicates the pregnancy of the woman as to directly or indirectly cause the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." It's common knowledge that pregnancy is dangerous for very young girls, but under Ohio's law, would being ten qualify as a "medically diagnosed condition"?

Voters have demonstrated a clear preference for laws that permit abortion in the early stages. Kansas led the way last August by rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have permitted the legislature to adopt strict limits. In the midterms, abortion restrictions were defeated across the board. It's safe to say that the legal strategy of outlawing abortion is facing a prolonged backlash at the hands of voters.

What can the pro-life movement realistically expect to achieve with the narrow focus on the law? Thirteen mostly low-density states have adopted abortion bans (for now). How many fewer abortions will there be in America as a result? The states with the highest numbers of abortions are mostly blue. The District of Columbia has the highest rate with 32.7 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. New York is second, followed by New Jersey and Maryland. The bottom ten states for abortion are all red, and most are sparsely populated: Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Idaho, and more like that. And, as you can surmise from the geography, most abortions are sought by Black (38 percent) and Hispanic (21 percent) women. Whites account for 33 percent.

Today the majority of abortions in America are medication abortions. A number of states have moved to ban abortifacients, but considering our national success rate at restricting cocaine, fentanyl, and heroin, such laws are going to be leaky at best.

While the rate of abortion has decreased dramatically since 1990, the percentage of poor or low-income women getting abortions has increased sharply. According to the Alan B. Guttmacher Institute, 75 percent of women terminating pregnancies in 2014 were either poor or low-income.

Their reasons for seeking abortions vary, but women often cite economic hardship among the chief motivators. So the pro-life movement is, in essence, adding a nuisance factor for poor and minority women in red and purple states.

The accusation against the pro-life movement that I've always thought was unjust was that they cared little for actual mothers and babies and simply wanted to control women, or worse, to harm women. The blinkered legal strategy tends to give that accusation a whiff of plausibility. Why not concentrate on concrete reforms that can make a difference in women's lives?

We need a huge push to get contraceptives into the hands of all women who want them. Half of women with unintended pregnancies had not used birth control in the month they conceived. Many cite cost as a factor. A doctor's appointment should not be necessary to obtain oral contraceptives. All of the major medical groups agree. So, let's kickstart a campaign to permit the over-the-counter sale of birth control pills.

Every abortion is a tragedy. And while it's unrealistic to use the law to forbid women to abort if that's what they are determined to do, there are thousands of expectant mothers who wish there were an alternative. They need financial and moral support and we should provide it. Wouldn't it be better to devote time and money to support groups for struggling moms than to limiting the exceptions to pregnancy termination in Louisiana? Every child should be welcomed in love. The pro-life movement should concentrate on helping more women to avoid unintended pregnancies, and ensuring that expectant mothers who really just need financial or practical or emotional support can find it.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Mitch McConnell

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Democrats get way too giddy about immediate gains and take their eyes off the ball, while Republicans excel at playing the long game. Overused sports metaphors aside, that has been the conventional wisdom because there’s a lot of truth in it.

Want proof? After Barack Obama’s historic 2008 presidential win, it was Republicans who ignored predictions of a “blue” future. They went to work. While Sen. Mitch McConnell did not ultimately succeed in his wish to make Obama a “one-term president” in 2012, he and his party delivered a 2010 midterm “shellacking” — to use Obama’s own word — that won control of the House and gained seats in the Senate.

In 2014, the GOP won that Senate majority McConnell craved, and the country still lives with the result — a solid conservative block on the Supreme Court, one that overturned Roe v. Wade and seems intent on rolling back voting rights and other signature issues claimed by today’s Democrats.

Few who watched McConnell's block-and-delay strategy, one that shaped that court, would argue with his coaching skill and foresight. But after last week’s anemic midterm GOP showing, the wisdom of Republican guile and “Democrats in disarray” is looking a lot less conventional.

It’s Democrats who are being credited with thinking ahead.

So, was the blue team taking notes, or did Republicans get a little too cocky? Why did some of those best-laid plans backfire?

After the results of the midterms, the partnership with Donald Trump, who refuses to go away, has not aged well. He did win the presidency in 2016, but Republicans ignored a lot that was in plain sight — things like competence and character.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, was all in when he asked and answered his own question in an appearance on Fox News in 2021: “Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no.” He added, “I’ve determined we can’t grow without him.”

But remember, this was the same guy who tweeted in 2016: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it.”

He knew better. So did Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

The definition of a nanosecond is the time it took for the House minority leader to segue from condemning Trump’s complicity in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol to a humiliating pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring.

McCarthy is now on the verge of finally fulfilling his dream of leading a House majority, and the prospect of herding his contentious crew may make that dream a nightmare. If he had sought advice from former GOP speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, McCarthy might have stiffened his spine and kept Trump at arm’s length. But those short-term gains were too tempting to ignore.

McConnell’s pre-midterm laments about “candidate quality” hint that even the master planner, who thought he could both use and control the former president, might be having some second thoughts. He survived a leadership challenge from Florida Sen. Rick Scott.

In the weeks before the midterms, the media paid way too much attention to the GOP flooding the zone with polls, meant to excite fans and demoralize the opposition, I suspect. But so did Republicans trapped in their own echo chamber, one devoid of solutions but chock-full of conspiracy theories, election deniers and jokes at the expense of the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi as he recovered from a brutal attack.

Did they not see there might be a few lines too indecent or unbelievable to cross?

In the meantime, it was Democrats who foresaw that voters could care about more than one issue at the same time (it’s the economy and abortion rights and democracy), who predicted that women might not easily forget the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision striking down Roe v. Wade, who appealed to young people who might not answer a poll-taker but who might care about climate change, gun reform and criminal justice reform.

Young voters are still an underrepresented percentage of the electorate, and in some areas they trended toward Republicans. But they made a difference for Democrats in college towns and swing states. And that student debt relief package proposed by President Joe Biden, something he was criticized for promoting, may have been one incentive.

While many pundits, including some in his own party, thought Biden naive for leaning into the survival of democracy as a topic worthy of speeches, it appears that making a final pitch to the head, heart and conscience of a nation actually worked.

You have to give him credit for seeing something many did not, for engaging in aspiration appeals many dismissed as too amorphous to capture the attention of bored and cynical citizens.

It would not be the first time Biden has been underestimated.

It is unfortunately true that grievance, a driving force for elections past, still attracts a sizable percentage of Americans who want to return to a nonexistent past, to a time when glory meant ignoring and oppressing others, thus the Make America Great Again refrain.

Razor-thin midterm margins reveal a still polarized nation.

But Democrats’ belief that Americans would choose policy solutions and a calmer political playing field instead of chaos held — at least in this election cycle.

Speaking of the past, Trump, awash in criminal investigations, has announced he is again running for president in 2024, ready to drag the Republican Party along with him. Knowing who and what Trump is and has always been, odds are pretty good he will always put himself, not his party, front and center.

Admittedly, the former president changed the GOP, remade it in his own image, and, even in this past week, had some successes in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere. You can never count him out.

But Republicans must be wondering if hitching their star and their future to such an unpredictable and uncontrollable force, if emphasizing culture wars, if elevating fear and suspicion, were wise choices if the goal is building a bigger and better GOP.

Have they dropped the ball?

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.