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Combative Politics

By Kay Steiger

I appreciate Brian weighing in in response to Jon Chait (he has more again today here) about how negotiating with the religious right is not the same as negotiating in foreign policy. This seems like an obvious point to me, and I think Matt and Brian both had good things to say. The state of abortion politics in America isn’t one of violent militant action (although it’s not that long ago that it was).

Instead, it is one where right-wing religious types have gained political clout to back up opinions that are largely opposed by the public at large. Abortion and family planning are considered negotiable when there is broad public support for both. More than 95 percent of women use birth control at some point during their reproductive lives. About two-thirds of the public still believes the right decision was made in Roe v. Wade. The subjects of these are so taboo, however, that many moderates and even liberals are willing to negotiate on these rights simply because people are uncomfortable talking about it.

Many women’s reproductive rights advocates have found the current anti-choice strategy effective: they have passed the ill-defined Partial Birth Abortion Ban, they have placed so many state restrictions on abortions that Mississippi and South Dakota are two states with only one clinic in them, and they have garnered huge amounts of public spending for so-called pregnancy crisis centers, which distribute false and misleading medical information to young women. These restrictions, enabled by the Supreme Court decision in Casey, have opened the door to more and more restrictions.

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However, I learned while doing some reporting at an anti-choice conference recently that the anti-choice movement, despite the restrictions on abortion they have seen happen, feel tried with the incremental nature of the anti-choice strategy. Some instead propose defining life beginning at fertilization and would create huge problems for birth control access and a woman’s miscarriage would be investigated. The first of such measures was defeated by a wide margin in Colorado last November.

The reason I took such an anti-negotiating stance with the anti-choice advocates is, as I said, because defending reproductive health is good public policy. It reduces public costs. It places an emphasis on prevention. It places and emphasis on science-based education. It doesn’t interfere with doctor-patient decisions. All too often, these things are considered negotiable, and we concede to a constituancy that is both a minority and promotes damaging policy.