Pro-Life Women, Voting Dilemma

Amie Newman

As Melinda Henneberger writes in Slate today, pro-life women are facing a dilemma this year. How can you vote based on a single issue - abortion - in the midst of a severe economic crisis, and a war? The answer is you don't.

Just what does it mean to be "pro-life"?

Melinda Henneberger has a fascinating piece in Slate today examining the pro-life female voters – both Democrat and Republican – for whom abortion will not be the deciding issue in their vote for a presidential candidate this year. 

Henneberger writes of one woman she interviewed who puts it philosophically:

These days, just the mention of abortion or gay marriage by a politician makes her want to scream: In the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, she says, "I don’t want to hear about questions for which there are no answers."

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Sure, on the face of it, it seems logical enough. We’re in the midst of one of this country’s worst economic environments in the lives of most all Americans and we’re still, as a nation, figuring out how to extricate ourselves from Iraq, while saying good-bye to the president who led us in under false pretenses – a president who, according to MSNBC today, claims the lowest approval ratings for any in recorded history – lower even than Richard Nixon. Why then would women vote based on a presidential candidate’s position on abortion in times like these?

Well, President Bush surely has something to do with it. Henneberger writes about one pro-life woman who, though she is voting for McCain this time around, will not use abortion access as a wedge issue as she was coerced into doing by her church in the last election:

Two years ago, she told me she blamed her church for Bush’s election—and felt she’d been conned into voting for him: "It was the church’s fault … I talked to several priests and they all said, ‘There’s only one issue in this election.’ I said, ‘What about the poor, and Social Security?’ And they said, ‘There is only one issue.’ Oh, it was hard to push that button for Bush; I think I was just used, and that’s what really grinds me."

Now what she says is "I never did like George Bush, and he’s turned out to be a disaster I contributed to."

Another woman Henneberger spoke to said that "the last eight years have convinced her that abortion should be off the table for good" because she thinks that "Iraq will go down as the worst political decision of the century." This woman, in fact, has decided that she will not vote for either candidate – a feeling that likely many Americans share. Have anti-choicers been duped?

Henneberger spoke with a handful of women who consider themselves pro-life, who voted for George W. Bush in the last two elections, but who are either not voting for McCain this time around or who are voting for Obama. But these women have asked for anonymity in the article and in fact were scared to reveal themselves for fear of recrimination from their church leadership and fellow congregants. Henneberger reminds readers, as we have done many times here at Rewire, that Doug Kmiec, a pro-life scholar, was denied communion after daring to announce his support for Barack Obama earlier this year. As well, there have been many voters this campaign season who are choosing a more critical approach to voting, unburdening themselves from single-issue voting

Henneberger interviews Marlene Turnbach, a pro-life Democrat, who has felt increasingly alienated by a Democratic party that she feels has "increasingly marginalized" her based on her perspective on abortion access. Turnbach, now, however is supporting Barack Obama:

Like others who told me they had based their vote on the single issue of abortion the last two times around, Turnbach’s says her ’08 calculus takes other matters—like the economy, the economy and the economy—into account: "McCain was on my nerves the other night, prancing around" at the debate in Nashville, she says, while Obama" strikes her as "level-headed, intelligent, and someone who doesn’t fly off the handle; I like him." Age is another strike against McCain in her view: "McCain is so old," says Turnbach, who is retired. "If he passed away, we’d have someone so inexperienced it’s scary…Most of her pro-life friends who went for Bush in 2000 and 2004 are also Obama grandmamas now, she says, including one who is really sweating the switch but "doesn’t think McCain is mentally stable."

The anti-abortion movement is not veering off message this time around-  it is pushing the same ideological perspectives it always has – strict adherence to criminalizing abortion, chipping away at Roe v. Wade via state laws that attempt to bestow full citizen’s rights onto a fetus, enacting barriers to women’s access to legal abortion services, distracting from the real issues of women’s health care through creation of bogus procedures like "partial birth abortion" and undermining women’s and family’s abilities’ to make private and personal decisions without government interference. 

And it’s not as if the anti-choice movement isn’t trying hard to rally that anti-choice base to vote against Senator Obama, who they see as extremely harmful to their cause. The National Right to Life Committee has thrown out charges of "infanticide",  accusing Obama of lying to cover up the fact that he supports infanticide. Jill Stanek, an activist and blogger who has worked tirelessly in service to the anti-choice mission, has pulled out stories of "abortion survivors" and attempted to unify anti-choice voters primarily using Obama’s votes on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act – but to little avail.

Even Sarah Palin, having likely been instructed to stop whipping supporters into a frenzy by linking Obama to Bill Ayers, has tried to fall back on abortion as a rallying cry, as Emily wrote about on this site. At a recent rally, Henneberger reports Palin as saying:

"In times like these with wars and financial crisis, I know that it may be easy to forget even as deep and abiding a concern as the right to life, and it seems that our opponent kind of hopes you will forget that."

But the cries seem to fall upon deaf ears. More and more pro-life supporters are just saying no.

It’s hard to justify, in the midst of a severe economic crisis, a vote solely based on what the anti-choice movement likes to call "life" but which most voters know affects a range of reproductive and sexual health issues for women, young people and their families. Ultimately, it seems that the anti-choice movement has some explaining to do. How is it that the anti-choice movement can raise and use hundreds of thousands of dollars to run television advertisements featuring a young woman who has "survived an abortion" while there are millions of children in this country without basic health insurance, unable to see a doctor or provider? How is that the anti-choice movement can justify working daily to restrict women’s access to basic reproductive health care services proven to lower the rate of unintended pregnancy – like contraception and family planning – while simultaneously attempting to restrict access to abortion? The "right to life" has resulted in a set of failed policies that target our young people, a distressing downturn in maternal health in this country, and severe disregard for how U.S. family planning funding impacts women’s lives and status worldwide. 

The anti-choice movement’s myopic focus, while families are struggling to feed their children, retain their homes, and keep their jobs, seems out of step and irrelevant.

However, let’s not forget that the anti-choice policies created and perpetuated by conservative, anti-choice presidents and politicians are not forgotten – even in times like these –  by the women and families most affected by these harsh policies. No matter what else is happening – through economic downturns and unjust wars, bailouts and unethical behavior – there are still and always will be women who cannot access legal abortion services, who are victims of health care providers who decide they are not deserving of emergency contraception after having been raped, who cannot get their family planning and contraceptive services covered by their health insurance, who rely on U.S. funding to international health centers for their birth control that can mean the difference between life and death or health and sickness. How can helping these women not be considered pro-life?

Whether pro-life women decide to take a break and eshew the vote for abortion in favor of a vote for a range of other issues, we’ll see. There certainly are more and more pro-life voters who are speaking out for a true and expanded vision of what is means to be pro-life. As one commenter on an Andrew Sullivan post puts it:

"For the record, I consider myself "pro-life" when it comes to abortion. But after eight years of Bush, I think it’s time to redefine what it means to be pro-life. Among other things, it should at the very least mean the following: To be pro-life is to be against unnecessary wars, and to be pro-life is to be against torture."


News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.