Veepstakes 2008: Checking Out the Field

Pamela Merritt

The battle lines on choice extend to the potential vice-presidential candidates as both major parties are unwilling to risk their base supporters for the possibility of new voters.

I must admit to getting caught
up in the current speculation
over who Senator Obama and Senator McCain will select as their vice
presidential running mate

From the moment both presumptive nominees were identified, the press
and political junkies have been making lists of potential vice presidents
and checking them twice for strengths and weaknesses.  Choice has
long been held as a litmus test issue for candidates of both major political
parties and the same may hold true this year.  Many supporters
of Senator Clinton are looking to see whether she will be Senator Obama’s
choice or, if not, whether the person who is selected will be as strongly
pro-choice as she is.  Obama must also maintain the support of
the traditionally pro-choice Democratic base while also attracting independent
and moderate Republicans who may not be solidly pro-choice to his side. 
Senator McCain, meanwhile, must balance the expectations of the socially conservative
Republican Party base with his need to attract independent voters. 
McCain supporters hope that his vice presidential selection will balance
the Republican ticket with youthful regional appeal and add a depth
of economic policy experience without alienating anti-choicers. 
The wild card for McCain is whether the anti-choice base will be a stronger
voting force than the many pro-choice Republican and Independent voters a June 2008 NARAL
Pro-Choice America poll

identified as pulling away from McCain because of his anti-choice positions. 

The decision is now in the
hands of the presumptive nominees and their vice presidential selection
committees, but pro-choice voters will benefit from an exploration of
the women and men who would be vice president and their records on choice.   

Let’s start our review from
the left. Senator Obama, having secured the endorsement of both Planned
Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, would seem to have an easier
pro-choice path but his newness to the political scene has some pro-choice
voters looking toward the vice presidential selection process as Obama’s
choice courage test.  Obama’s short list seems to be fluid but
a few names have maintained a presence for several weeks.  Senator
Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, Senator
Evan Bayh of Indiana, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, Governor Kathleen
Sebelius of Kansas and recently Representative Chet Edwards of Texas
are each garnering a lot of speculation in the press.  Recent news
that Senator Clinton’s
supporters may make a run at the Democratic Convention
has renewed speculation over what
her role will be if she is not selected for the bottom half of the Democratic
ticket.  Despite the joint statement of unity issued by Senator
Obama and Senator Clinton in response, a leaked video clip that appears
to show Senator Clinton encouraging her supporters to take their fight
to the convention floor has stirred up concerns about party unity and
re-energized talk that the clearest path to unity is an Obama-Clinton

Senator Clinton’s
record on choice is well known to voters
but some of the other people on Obama’s short list boast records more
familiar to regional supporters than to a national political audience. 
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, once a presidential candidate himself,
accepts the view of the Catholic Church that life begins at conception.
Biden has stated his opposition to public funding for
and his
support of a partial-birth abortion ban but that he supports Roe v.
Wade.  Biden was rated 60% by NARAL
and rated 100%
by Planned Parenthood

(2006).  Project Vote Smart has a listing of Senator
Biden’s voting record on abortion

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When Governor Tim Kaine of
Virginia ran for office he stated his intent to promote abstinence
and ban partial-birth abortion

He has promised to reduce abortion rates in Virginia by enforcing current
state restrictions, passing a ban on partial-birth abortion while ensuring
women’s access to health care, including legal contraception. 
Kaine, a practicing Catholic, has a faith-based opposition to abortion. 
Yet in 2007 Kaine moved to cut off state funding
for abstinence-only sex education programs
citing recent studies finding that teenagers should also be taught about
birth control and condoms to protect against pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases. 

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana
has voted against defining a fetus as eligible for SCHIP, prohibiting
minors from crossing state lines for abortion services, barring HHS
grants to organizations that perform abortions and against maintaining
an abortion ban on military bases.  Bayh has voted for expanding
research to more embryonic stem cell lines, notifying parents of minors
who get out-of-state abortions, $100M to reduce teen pregnancy through
education and contraceptives and in support of banning partial birth
abortions except for maternal life.  Senator Bayh was rated 100% by NARAL (2007) and rated 92% by Planned

Project Vote Smart a listing of Senator
Bayh’s voting record on abortion

Governor Kathleen Sebelius
of Kansas was endorsed by Planned Parenthood for years as pro-choice
and columnist Robert Novak branded
her a pro-choicer’s dream V.P.

choice.  Sebelius describes herself as personally pro-life, but
she is opposed to efforts to eliminate or reduce abortions primarily
by criminalizing abortion procedures.  Sebelius vetoed anti-choice
legislation in Kansas in 2003, 2005, 2006, and again in 2008 when she vetoed
the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act

on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.  

Representative Chet Edwards
of Texas is a newcomer to the Democratic potential running mate list. 
Edwards has voted against making it a crime to harm a fetus during another
crime, banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother’s life,
funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion information
and against banning family planning funding in United States foreign
aid.  Representative Edwards has been rated 100% by NARAL and rated 82% by Planned

To the right are Senator McCain’s
potential running mates.  Recently former Pennsylvania Governor
and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, who is on Senator McCain’s
short list and who has been the subject of much speculation in the press, re-confirmed his
pro-choice position during an appearing on ABC News’ "This Week
with George Stephanopoulos

Ridge also said that he did not think Senator McCain would make choice
a litmus test for potential vice presidential candidates.  Since
the economy has emerged as the top issue of concern to voters this election
year it would seem logical that McCain would select a running mate with
that in mind since his economic credentials have been an issue. 
But Ridge’s comments raise the question of whether McCain, who has
a history of alienating social conservatives within the Republican Party,
can afford to overlook a vice presidential prospects pro-choice record
in favor of a person with an impressive economic policy resume. 
On McCain’s short list are Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia,
Representative Rob Portman of Ohio, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana,
Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Massachusetts Governor
Mitt Romney. 

Representative Eric Cantor
of Virginia voted for restricting interstate transport of minors seeking
abortion services and making it a crime to harm a fetus during another
crime. Cantor has voted in favor of banning partial-birth abortion except
to save a mother’s life, funding for health providers who do not provide
abortion information, banning family planning funding in United States
foreign aid and in support of making it a federal crime to harm fetus
while committing other crimes.  Representative Cantor was rated 0% by NARAL and 0% by Planned Parenthood.  Project Vote Smart
has listed Representative Cantor’s voting record

Governor Mitt Romney was pro-choice then
switched position shortly before running as a candidate for the 2008
Republican Presidential nomination

In 2002 Romney said he supported the substance of the Supreme Court
decision in Roe versus Wade and funding of abortion services through
Medicaid in answers to a questionnaire submitted by Planned Parenthood. 
By 2007 Romney had received the Political Leadership award from Massachusetts
Citizens for Life at a Mothers’ Day dinner. Romney describes himself
as a "convert" to the anti-choice cause in the tradition of
Ronald Reagan. 

Representative Rob Portman
of Ohio is an American lawyer and politician who has served in two cabinet
positions and as a member of Congress. Most recently, Portman was Director
of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  While in office
Portman voted in favor of banning partial-birth abortion except to save
a mother’s life, funding for health providers who do not provide abortion
info, banning family planning funding in United States foreign aid and
in support of making it a federal crime to harm a fetus while committing
a crime.  It comes as not surprise that Portman was rated 0% by
NARAL Pro-Choice America.  

Tim Pawlenty
Minnesota is said to be solidly anti-choice
but not in public

As Andy Birkey detailed in his article Gov. Pawlenty and
the Evangelicals: Where He Stands on Hot-Button Issues
, Pawlenty’s evangelicalism has elevated
him to top of the running mate wish list for social conservatives despite
his lack of public statements on his religious beliefs. 

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana
is also solidly pro-life.  Jindal is the darling of the Republican
Party right now, having demonstrated the ability to campaign on a socially
conservative platform with charisma and cross party appeal.  
While serving in Congress. Jindal voted against allowing human embryonic
stem cell research and he voted in favor of restricting interstate transport
of minors to seeking abortion services.  Jindal has been rated 0%
by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood

Clearly the battle lines on
choice extend to the potential vice presidential candidates because
both major parties need their base supporters and are unwilling to risk
those guaranteed votes for the possibility of new voters.  Both
vice presidential selection committees must now vet candidates for their
ability to balance out their party’s presumptive nominee’s weak
points while also considering the candidates regional appeal and their
ability to energize the base.  With future retirements on the Supreme
Court looming in the next few years, the cost to reproductive justice
could be high.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”


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