This week The Washington Times has a three-part series of articles about "the future of the traditional-values movement, including the status of the abortion debate and the role of women." This series, written by Cheryl Wetzstein, focuses primarily on the anti-abortion movement's ties with the Republican Party, the results of the 2006 midterm elections, and which side will succeed in winning the next generation over to their causes.
Part I: "Traditional values down, but not out"
The first article in the series focuses on the socially conservative movement in politics. Wetzstein looks at whether the traditional values movement is declining, and decides that it's not—the main groups in the movement are still alive and well and organizing a major "values voters summit" this fall. However, the movement was hurt by the scandals of leaders in the Christian Right and Republican Party, which led to a backlash at the polls.
According to several political analysts, the movement made a mistake by aligning with the Republican Party instead of remaining politically independent. Paul M. Weyrich, a "conservative icon" who founded the Free Congress foundation, emphasizes political clout through playing the two major parties against each other:
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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The traditional-values movement was once such a "third-force" power-broker, and it is time to return to that position and not be "owned" by the Republican Party, Mr. Weyrich said.
Weyrich emphasizes the need for the movement to change and adapt in order to succeed. The Family Research Council emphasizes that the movement is "motivated by issues, not partisan politics."
But voters did focus on issues in the midterm election, resulting in the Republican Party losing "values voters" due to small shifts in a few religious demographic groups.
"Huge numbers of religiously observant Americans voted for Democrats, reversing a 14-year trend," according to the liberal People for the American Way (PFAW). "There are hugely hopeful signs that the pendulum in American public life is swinging back from the far-right extremes."
To address this shift, some members of the conservative movement are reaching out to form new alliances with minorities, women and youth. And several groups warn traditional values voters to beware of the Left using their language.
Traditional-values voters are going to have to watch out for "poseur Christians"—"liberals trying to sound like quote, 'evangelicals,' " said Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition. "They are not us. They are not traditional values. They are pro-abortion. They are pro-homosexual 'marriage.' "
Wetzstein uses Alabama as an example of voters associating Republicans with big business and Democrats with typical "family issues" such as jobs, health care, and pensions.
Part II: "Pro-lifers ready for a comeback"
In the second article, Wetzstein asks, "Has America's pro-life movement lost its clout? Is the 34-year abortion war finally ending, with the pro-choice view in command?" She examines both sides of the abortion debate and their strategies moving forward.
Apparently, both sides are optimistic. The pro-choice movement made critical gains in the election—both in legislation and in pro-choice candidates—and despite the setback from the Supreme Court, they are gaining ground with their "prevention first" strategy. Focusing on family planning and reducing the need for abortions allows the pro-choicers to create new alliances and appeal to a wider audience; this focus also presents a split in the anti-choice movement (some of whom are anti-contraception).
However, the anti-choice movement is galvanized by the Supreme Court decision to uphold the federal abortion ban and is recovering from the political losses of the election.
"I think we've won the abortion war," said Janice Shaw Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America.
Abortion opponents point to advances in technology, such as improved ultrasounds and better medical care for premature infants, as increasing support for their side. They attempt to shift the focus exclusively to the fetus, playing up that emotional aspect and neglecting the well-being of the pregnant woman. Yet a significant scientific advancement presents a new challenge to this movement: stem cell research.
Wetzstein ends this section with a look at the battle in the courts and legislatures. The pro-choice movement introduced the Freedom of Choice Act in Congress to protect Roe v. Wade, and they successfully defeated dangerous ballot initiatives last fall. However, the anti-abortion movement continues to "fence in" Roe with state bills that restrict access to abortion and support for the federal Hyde Amendment.
Part III: "Female voters flex their muscle"
The final article in the series examines the role of women voters. Wetzstein focuses on the traditional roles of women and looks at the upcoming generations:
"What does it mean for the traditional-values movement if women—the traditional keepers of hearth and home—are leaning more left than right? Which worldview—conservative or progressive—will be adopted by most women in Generations X and Y?"
Both the Left and the Right express confidence in reaching younger women, but last year's election showed women consistently favoring Democratic candidates in key races.
Democrats are currently appealing to women on "family issues," especially with their plans for family and medical leave, child care, and education. However, the conservative movement attacks the Left's language and decries their values. According to Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America, the Democrats are "using language, lies, to try to say there is no difference in terms of the values of the two parties … there are very strong differences, very distinct differences." These "distinct differences" refer to a progressive focus on "compassion issues" (such as poverty, health, the environment, international aid, etc.) and a conservative focus on "biblical values" (such as abortion, marriage and homosexuality).
In order to be successful in 2008, "traditional-values people are going to have to stake their ground and make it very clear what traditional values are"—and that "they are key to freedom and liberty," [Crouse] says.
Wetzstein uses plenty of quotes from conservatives on values, but while she quotes Democratic and pro-choice speakers on strategy and political analysis, she doesn't present a progressive vision of family values.
All sides are looking forward to the 2008 election, hoping to win over and create alliances with youth, women, and racial minorities on their issues.
For more on the conservative movement and its values, check out Rewire's series on the World Congress of Families.