Published August 23, 2012
“Recently some of you who have been paying attention to the commentary of the [Senate candidate] from Missouri, Mr. Akin. The interesting thing here is that this is an individual who sits on the House committee on science and technology but somehow missed science class. But it’s representative of a desire to go backwards instead of forwards. And fights that we thought were settled 20, 30 years ago.”
-- President Obama, speaking at a New York fundraiser.
America is a pro-life nation, but Americans favor some exceptions. That’s a lot more like Mitt Romney than it is Barack Obama.
Gallup found this spring that the percentage of Americans who defined themselves as “pro-choice” had dropped to its all-time low and those calling themselves “pro-life” stayed near its all-time high at 50 percent.
This is part of a long arc that has bent away from supermajority support for the “pro-choice” stance in prior decades. In 1995, “pro-choice” led “pro-life” by 23 points.
While cultural conservatives may be losing the battles on same-sex relations and the coarsening of popular culture, on issues of life, they have turned the national discussion sharply in their favor.
But Americans still overwhelmingly prefer preserving some exemptions if their pro-life stance. Fifty two percent told Gallup in May that they believe abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances” compared to the 25 percent who said it should be legal in all circumstances and the 20 percent who felt it should be illegal in all cases.
This gibes with the views of soon-to-be Republican nominee Romney who opposes elective abortions but makes allowances for the most typical trio of exemptions: rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk.
Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has opposed exemptions for rape and incest. He says that he will subordinate his views to Romney’s on the subject, but Ryan is part of a broad swath of social conservatives who argue that a life is a life, regardless of the circumstances under which it is conceived. The baby, they argue, shouldn’t lose his or her life because of the bad act of his or her father.
Then there is Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who argued that rape exemptions are not really necessary because “legitimate” rape victims are unlikely to become pregnant. He has since recanted, but the accusation from Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, that women seeking abortions in the case of rape are probably lying, has given Democrats plenty of ammunition to use against more biologically aware social conservatives like Ryan.
But as Democrats try to pry female voters away from the GOP with the Akin attacks by ascribing his views to other Republicans, President Obama and his party have little to offer any persuadable voters who might be convinced that Republicans hold “extreme” views on the issue.
Democrats made much of the fact that the language of the 2012 Republican platform doesn’t make any allowances for exceptions in abortion. This is not new, but the timing of the announcement of the platform plank matched up with a media freak out about Akin and so the platform became a huge issue.
But the Democrats’ platform looks likely to be just as absolute in its support for abortion as the Republicans are in their opposition, if not more so.
The 2008 Democratic platform held up “a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”
That means no exclusions for late-term abortion or the practice known, horrifyingly, as “partial-birth abortion.” That means none of the exemptions that most Americans would support. And given the fact that Democrats are moving left on social issues this year, particularly in support of same-sex marriage, it isn’t likely that any exemptions will appear this year. Neither is it likely that Democrats will return to their Clinton-era phrase of choice “safe, legal and rare,” rare implying a negative moral judgment.
President Obama himself previously opposed efforts to limit late-stage abortions, arguing in his Senate run that he was “pro-choice” even in the final trimester of pregnancy. Obama shifted in 2008 to support the rights of states to limit late-term abortion, much as he now supports same-sex marriage in general but isn’t opposed to state-level efforts to restrict it, but still extols his support for elective abortion.
However far right Republicans have moved on the subject of life, Democrats have become only more rigid in their liberalism. The GOP will soon nominate a candidate who disagrees with the conservative base about exempting victims of rape and incest from a proposed abortion ban. Could a Democrat who favored restrictions on abortion win that party’s nomination?
Romney seems to be mostly in step with public sentiment on the subject: pro-life with caveats. Obama and his party are trying hard to suggest that Romney is an extremist, but abortion has become a losing issue for the blue team, especially in the predominantly Catholic battleground states of the Rust Belt.
Like gun control, support for unrestricted access to abortion has become a political relic of the 1980s and before. Thanks to a very successful push by religious groups and the wonders of ultrasound technology, support for elective abortion is politically untenable in most states, yet Democrats abide in their support for the practice.
Most Americans fall somewhere between the Republican and Democratic platforms on the subject, but more of them line up with Romney, pro-life with few exemptions, than do with Obama, pro-choice with few exemptions.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“But assume if you have enough to win the presidency, you probably have enough to win 51 seats in the Senate. So [Mitt Romney] will announce retroactive undoing of all this stuff, six-month extension while they work out real Ryan-like tax reform and entitlement reform. I sleep well at night.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.