Commentary Politics

Maybe the United States Is Ready for an Unabashedly Pro-Choice Candidate

Shelley Abrams

Why are Wendy Davis and Terry McAuliffe, two Southern politicians who made names for themselves as reproductive rights supporters, suddenly shrinking away from the issue of abortion?

It all seems so obvious. In the South, two very public candidates get positive attention and support for being vocally pro-choice. They use the word abortion, which until now has been seen as political suicide. They are known and successful for being pro-choice. The next logical step for such a candidate? To continue to publicly and vocally support abortion rights, right? Wrong. In today’s abortion bizarro world, these candidates not only begin to shrink from supporting abortion rights—sometimes they even give their pro-choice constituents the virtual middle finger.

The twisted reality I’m talking about is occurring as I speak in Texas with Wendy Davis and in Virginia with Terry McAuliffe.

Wendy Davis’ popularity went up 14 points among Texans after her bold and determined filibuster last July. Polls showed that 45 percent of Texans supported her efforts. During her 11-hour speech, she argued against what was then a proposed 20-week abortion ban in the state, reading testimony from Texans in support of reproductive rights, stories of Texas women who’d had abortions after 20 weeks, and letters from major medical organizations that opposed the bill. Her name became closely linked to the dire reproductive rights battle raging in Texas, and rightly so. Yet, as soon as it looked like she might have potential in the governor’s race, things changed. Suddenly, I began hearing in pro-choice circles that she no longer wanted be openly associated with abortion.

Then came the “narrative” she would run under: I’m a mother. I struggled when I was a single mother. I accomplished everything you see today for the sake of my children. Translation: How could anyone think of the now dirty word, “abortion,” in relation to me after hearing my life story? To top it off, she openly stated that she could see herself supporting a 20-week abortion ban if the conditions were right—a statement that was not at odds with her previous statements about 20-week bans, but which stung many of her supporters nonetheless.

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Switch gears to newly elected Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. For six months, Gov. McAuliffe ran TV and radio ads relentlessly pounding his opponent Ken “The Cooch” Cuccinelli on his anti-choice agenda. To be fair, McAuliffe didn’t have much else to run on: He’d never held office before and had no public identity past his association with Bill and Hillary Clinton. And yet with all that against him, and with the huge advantage of millions more advertising dollars than his opponent (used overwhelmingly for abortion rights ads), he won the election.

What is one of the first things Gov. McAuliffe did after being sworn into office? He reappointed Bob “Vaginal Ultrasound” McDonnell’s health and human resources secretary to his own cabinet. Bill Hazel is the same man who readily implemented legislation mandating ultrasounds before abortions and imposing strict building codes on abortion clinics. The act of choosing this particular appointee at this particular time was Gov. McAuliffe’s chance to show the pro-choice majority that got him elected that he was, in fact, solidly pro-choice. But that isn’t what happened, and those of us in the abortion rights community in Virginia looked around at each other and said, “Huh. I think he just gave us a great big f*** you.”

These things don’t go unnoticed by the right wing either. They’ve already picked apart some of Davis’ narrative, trying to make her look disingenuous and even a little sleazy. And speaking of sleazy, Gov. McAuliffe’s “middle of the road” move only served to perpetuate his long-standing reputation of being slippery.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m tired of living in abortion bizarro world.

Abortion isn’t complicated, yet everyone on every side of the issue continues to make it so. In abortion bizarro world, one plus one never equals two. And even if it did, someone would screw around with it until it equaled seven. In abortion bizarro world, scientific studies don’t matter. The law doesn’t matter. Women’s opinions don’t matter. Doctors’ opinions don’t matter. Political promises, oaths, and purported personal principles don’t matter.

Instead of just going with the obvious and staying true to the issue that got her noticed, the political hacks in the Democratic political machine turned Wendy Davis into just another politician who seems noncommittal on the issue of abortion. They also confirmed for the public that McAuliffe would be the slippery politician Republicans always said he’d be.

Has the pro-choice left been so brainwashed by anti-choicers that our own side, perhaps subconsciously, began to perpetuate the stigma around abortion by refusing to accept the obvious?

It’s time to leave abortion bizarro world and embrace the obvious: U.S. voters just may be ready for an unabashedly pro-choice candidate.

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