(VIDEO) Election 2010: Democrats Suddenly Talking About Abortion Rights

Jodi Jacobson

Democrats in tight election races are rightly calling out their Republican/Tea Party opponents for their radical social agendas.  But how does this help if the Dems don't protect sexual and reproductive rights while in office?

Since the inauguration of President Obama, the Democratic party as a whole has been largely silent on women’s sexual and reproductive rights.  Yes, a few leaders–Diana DeGette (D-CO), Lois Capps (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY) Henry Waxman (D-CA) among them–have been vocal and unabashed in their continued support of access to abortion and contraception, and to related issues, such as commonsense comprehensive sex ed.  And yes, there are those so-called “pro-life” Democrats who don’t support women’s rights anyway. But the White House has avoided the issue at every opportunity, especially during the health care debate, and other politicians chose to stand on the sidelines or too quickly support “compromises.”  So during a time when we ostensibly have a pro-choice Administration, House and Senate, women have lost coverage of abortion care under health reform, and at the state level, not to mention other losses.

Now, with painful Senate and House losses on the horizon, some Democrats have suddenly found their voice on choice, so to speak.

The New York Times reports this morning that:

Abortion rights is the flash point, being wielded by the left in hard-fought races from New York’s contest for governor, to Senate races in Florida and California, as Democratic candidates or groups try to rally their base and attract moderate Republican or independent women — a slice of the electorate that is even more coveted than in years past.

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In short, Republicans and their first cousins in the Tea Party have an increasingly radical agenda on social issues–only one example being support for laws that would convey the full rights of “personhood” on fertilized eggs (thereby outlawing not only abortion but also contraception and in-vitro fertilization), and also make it difficult if not impossible for a pregnant woman with a serious illness, such as cancer, to get treatment.

Some candidates, like the Tea Party-backed Carl Paladino, who is running against Andrew Cuomo for Governor of New York, are unabashed in their anti-choice, anti-woman positions.  In that race, NARAL Pro-Choice New York and others have taken him on, as can be seen in the video below.

But much of the ultra-right wants to hide the neon lights of its radical social agenda under a bushel, instead focusing on economic issues to get elected.  In the Colorado primaries, for example, Tea-Party/Republican Senate Candidate Ken Buck (running against Democratic Senator Michael Bennett) forcefully backed Amendment 62, the “egg-as-person” measure in Colorado.  A Buck spokesperson told the Times that Mr. Buck believed that life begins at conception and that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

But concerned about falling off the right end of the chart during the Senatorial campaign, he now claims not to have clearly understood the full implications of the personhood law for, say, banning contraception. It’s a weak and weasley dodge given that one action of birth control pills is to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, successful implantation being the medically recognized establishment of a pregnancy. If you believe a fertilized egg is a person, how can a contraceptive that impedes it from implanting be okay?

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is airing this commercial underscoring that point:

These shifts reveal both the fear by Republicans/Tea Partiers of being seen for who they are–radical on social issues–and how sloppy and cavalier they are about their endorsements of dangerous laws and policies with profound implications for women’s rights and lives.  The Democrats and progressive groups are right to call them out on these and other issues, and repeatedly so.

On the other hand, it feels to me like too little too late. 

How good is it to elect Democrats if when confronted with sweeping legislation such as health reform they don’t effectively stand up to the minority party on something so profound as the right to terminate an unintended and untenable pregnancy?  How good is it to allow time and again the assertion that even victims of rape and incest be denied the right to an abortion? How good is it to have a “pro-choice” President in the White House who appears grossly uncomfortable standing up for the rights on which he campaigned?  If Democrats when actually elected either ignore the issue or capitulate to the minority right in Congress on matters of law and policy that achieve the same ends sought by the far right, we haven’t won much.

Yes, I know, under the Republicans and the Tea Party things will be far, far worse.  I am not suggesting otherwise.  But things ain’t so great right now and its long past time for pro-choice politicians to walk their talk.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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