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Tim Kaine’s journey on abortion rights

Kaine has drawn a line between his personal beliefs and his political views.

Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., before the start of the third day session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER
Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., before the start of the third day session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER

Hillary Clinton’s Friday selection of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate threw many of Clinton’s strongly pro-choice supporters for a loop.

“I went to IA to campaign for Hillary 8 years before repro orgs found it cool and will not sugarcoat this. Kaine tremendously disappointing,” tweeted Erin Matson, co-founder of reproductive rights organization Reproaction.

In my research, I hear Kaine’s stance quite a bit

“Because abortion is relegated to the sideline, the bar for excellence has been set so low that we sometimes forget how our allies have harmed us in the past,” wrote abortion activist Renee Bracey Sherman in an editorial titled “Why Tim Kaine’s Stance on Abortion Scares Me.”

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With a strongly anti-abortion duo on the Republican presidential ticket promising a repeal of Roe v. Wade and “punishment” for the 1 in 3 women who get an abortion, it’s not hard to see why many women reacted this way.

Kaine, a Catholic, has been open about his personal opposition to abortion in the past. And as Virginia governor, he approved a handful of anti-abortion bills, some that still exist today. But in recent years, Kaine has drawn a line between his personal beliefs and his political views on abortion — a line clearly distinctive enough to convince major reproductive rights organizations to applaud his recent nomination.

For some, the idea that a Democrat can be personally against abortion, but vote pro-choice appears especially nuanced — if not rare. And having that person on the party’s presidential ticket doesn’t sit well with many pro-choice voters. But according to recent polling — and decades of research — Kaine’s gray stance on a seemingly black and white issue reflects a bipartisan majority of Americans.

A recent poll by NARAL Pro-Choice America found that 7 in 10 Americans support legal abortion. Of the seven, researches found that more than half are personally against abortion, but “don’t believe government should prevent a woman from making that decision for herself.” The majority of those polled identified as politically conservative.

What matters more to people is how our society, and our government, should be dealing with this issue

“In my research, I hear Kaine’s stance quite a bit,” said Tresa Undem, a researcher who has conducted public opinion polls for nonprofits for years. “I think that his views represent a majority portion of the public.”

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This isn’t as represented in the media as often as the distinct pro-life or pro-choice views, Undem said, because of the way abortion is normally talked about. Instead of simply asking if a voter supports or opposes abortions, Undem’s polls frame the question in more realistic terms.

“We ask: ‘Think about a women who decided to have an abortion. How do you want that experience to be for them?’” Undem said. “We ask how much the government needs to be involved in that decision. And in doing so, we find that many people who label themselves ‘pro-life’ are actually more ‘pro-choice.’”

Which seems to be the bucket Kaine falls into.

Prior to his 2012 election to the U.S. Senate, Kaine’s voting record was decidedly anti-abortion. The Virginia governor pushed for adoption over abortion, promoted abstinence-only education, passed a law that required parental notification for minors wanting an abortion, and banned late-term abortion. He even signed a bill to use state dollars to create “Choose Life” license plates, which funded state “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” — facilities whose sole purpose is to dissuade pregnant women from getting an abortion.

However, his Senate record indicates a sea change in the Democratic lawmaker’s abortion politics. According to leading reproductive rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America, Kaine holds a 100 percent pro-choice voting record in the U.S. Senate. He’s fought bills to defund Planned Parenthood, co-sponsored a bill that assures women the right to an abortion regardless of their zip code, and voted against abortion bans similar to those he enacted while governor.

This apparent switch is what got major organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood to back Kaine.

“It’s a hostile, extreme Congress on issues of repro freedom… We’ve not lost Kaine on a single vote. We have lost other Dems,” wrote Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a Facebook post after announcing NARAL’s support of Kaine. “I am okay with people having a different moral system than I do as long as they don’t legislate that on me or anyone else.”

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And Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, wrote that “there has never been a presidential ticket more committed to women’s health and reproductive rights than that of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine” in an editorial for TIME.

As a public servant, it takes real power to reconcile the beliefs that came with your upbringing

“Senator Kaine has long held personal beliefs about abortion, but he does not impose those personal beliefs on public policy,” she went on. “He understands that personal decisions about pregnancy and whether or when to have children belong to women — not politicians.”

Working to normalize differing private and political views on abortion is a new focus for these organizations.

“People think about it in a very binary way,” said NARAL’s Kaylie Hanson Long. “But it’s time we we separate the two areas.”

But is it possible to entirely split a voter’s moral standing with their politics?

Some researchers think it may take a lawmaker like Kaine to encourage this dichotomy. It could even push moderate Republicans who see themselves in Kaine to the pro-choice camp. While he may not be a champion of abortion rights, his ability to speak openly about his beliefs while respecting a woman’s right to choose is a “powerful statement” for any politician, according to Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund. http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/07/22/3801047/tim-kaine-hillary-vp/“As a public servant, it takes real power to reconcile the beliefs that came with your upbringing to be able to reflect the needs of everyone in your community,” she said.

Miller’s organization has worked with Undem in the past to conduct polls on reproductive rights and abortion in particular. In her research, she hasn’t seen much of an “internal struggle” in participants who follow Kaine’s split beliefs. Instead, the bigger takeaway is people’s negative reaction to power-hungry politicians.

“We now know there’s overwhelming support for abortion to be safe and legal. That’s clear,” she said. “What matters more to people is how our society, and our government, should be dealing with this issue.”

Despite abortion advocate’s qualms, Kaine is already taking necessary steps to cement his image as a reproductive rights supporter — politically, at least. Tuesday night, Clinton campaign staffers shared that Kaine had told Clinton he would support a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the decades-old provision that blocks federal dollars from funding abortion procedures. For the first time ever, the DNC’s 2016 platform calls for repealing Hyde, and Clinton has promised a repeal on multiple campaign stops.