Monday, March 12, 2007

Are the GOP pro-lifers wising up?

An interesting article in the Weekly Standard says yes. The article assumes that Giuliani is the nominee, which is WAY too premature at this time, but it applies just as well to Romney, or Gingrich, for that matter.

The deal in the works has been carefully crafted to make sure that no one loses too much. Conservatives would be getting a pro-choice nominee, but one who would not push a pro-choice agenda, and one who would give them (as far as presidents can be sure in these matters) the kind of judges they long for. Giuliani would not be required to renounce his beliefs, merely to appoint the right kind of judges and to remain more or less neutral in a policy area in which, to be honest, he has never shown that much interest. The Republicans will remain the pro-life party--as desired by the bulk of their voters and required by the workings of the two-party system--though now with a larger, more varied, and in some ways more competitive field of candidates. And it is worth noting in this altered context that the Democrats also are starting to change. One of the reasons Democrats now run both the houses of Congress is that canny recruiters defied their own culture war lobbies and rammed a number of pro-life and pro-gun candidates down the throats of their interest groups, assessing correctly that control of Congress was worth a few unhappy activists.

This is a welcome event. I know that Roe vs. Wade was and is a monstrosity of judicial tyranny, but I am pro-choice, in the sense that I just can't compel a woman to bear a child she does not want.

So let the fight to create an abortion right go back to state legislatures, where it should have stayed in the first place. That is how Women’s Suffrage, Prohibition, and the repeal of Prohibition came about, and that is the proper American way.

Honestly, I don’t know whether the Supreme Court will overturn Roe. I do know it WON’T MATTER if it does.

You see, for all the rights rhetoric (whether “right to choose”, or “right to life”), abortion is not an abstract concept. It’s a medical procedure requiring a doctor willing to perform it. In states where abortion is frowned upon - the states likely to ban abortion if Roe is overturned - abortion providers are already incredibly rare.

Most abortion providers, understandably, prefer to practice in states where people support them and where clients are more likely to be, i.e., states where abortion won’t and will never be banned.

This reality means that however much energy is spent on Supreme Court nominee battles, a Roe reversal wouldn’t change the country’s total number of abortion providers much. In fact, a year after Roe is overturned, it would be the rare woman who would notice any difference in her life at all.

In the past year, as passionate people on both sides have dug their Supreme Court battle trenches, a few pro-choice organizations have attempted to rally supporters with reports on which states would ban abortion if Roe fell. Shortly before the 2004 election, for instance, the Center for Reproductive Rights announced that 21 states were “highly likely” to ban abortion and nine “somewhat likely”.

However, I looked at the Center For Reproductive Rights’ claims more closely. Not only are 20 West Coast, East Coast, and “Rust Belt” states solidly pro-choice–population giants like California, Illinois, Michigan and New York among them–but the other problem with the pro-choice calculations is that they include pre-Roe 1973 abortion bans still on the books. Roe superseded these laws in practice. In theory, some bans would immediately become law if Roe were overturned. But this theory implies that legislators and voters in these states wouldn’t be able to debate and pass laws saying otherwise.

Given the split in U.S. politics, many would do just that. Of the 21 states the Center for Reproductive Rights claims are “most likely” to ban abortion after Roe, seven have Democrat governors. These governors would not be able to preside over new post-Roe abortion bans without risking a party revolt.

Of the other 14 states, one (Rhode Island) votes consistently Democratic in presidential races, and elects rather mild Republicans who are often derided as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). Though not all Democrats support abortion, it’s unlikely that the 60% of Rhode Island voters who chose Sen. John Kerry last fall would be inspired to support a ban. Nor would the milder Republicans in Rhode Island–or anywhere else these mild Republicans exist–dare try one.

Another state, Ohio, is too much of a political tossup to count in the ban camp. Colorado might vote Republican, but the state’s recent election of a Democratic senator and new Democratic majorities in its statehouse implies that the politics are pretty split.

That leaves us with 11 likely states. According to data from The Alan Guttmacher Institute, these states had 122 abortion providers in 2000. That’s less than 7% of the 1,819 abortion providers - a fluid number, to be sure - in the USA. More than half of those 122 providers (65) are in one state: Texas.

In the other 10-state area, abortion providers are already few and far between. In Mississippi, Kentucky and the Dakotas, 98% of counties have no abortion providers; in Missouri and Nebraska, 97% lack them. In these Roe-unfriendly states, women already have to travel hours by car or bus to obtain abortions; in a post-Roe world of crossing state lines, going a bit further up or down the Interstates, that story wouldn’t change.

(This is also why claims of “a return to back alley abortions” are utter bunk! A boost in Greyhound Bus ridership is what will happen, not fictional “back alley abortionists”.)

Of the nine “somewhat likely” states, only three have solidly Republican governors, legislatures and voting tendencies: Indiana, Idaho and Georgia. If they banned abortion, that would affect just 48 providers. In a realistic “worst-case scenario” (for pro-choice types) of 14 states that included a Texas ban, overturning Roe would affect a maximum of 170 providers, less than 10% of the U.S. total.

And how many Republicans in these 14 states, especially Texas (65 abortion providers is a lot for an ostensibly pro-life state, even one that big) really have the stomach for such a fight? For how many of them is abortion the real burning issue? Many Republicans are pro-life, but they see the fight for tax cuts, spending cuts, and the War On Terror as much bigger issues. These Republicans are not going to act like Captain Ahabs and go down with the anti-abortion ship. I honestly would be surprised if more than 10 states enacted or retained abortion bans once Roe is overturned.

In their zeal to fight over the Supreme Court, though, neither side of the abortion debate has absorbed these numbers. Few pro-life groups realize they’ve fought a 30-year battle to put just a handful of doctors out of business. Pro-choice forces haven’t grasped that the millions they’ll spend lobbying to block Bush’s nominees could be better spent tipping a lot of state and local legislative races. Or, for that matter, to build abortion clinics in solidly pro-choice states that are near the borders of states likely to enact or keep abortion bans.

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