Roe Turns 2,000

Yesterday evening, Representative Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) took the oath of office. By my calculation, he is the 2,000th voting member of Congress that has served since the Roe v. Wade decision of January 22, 1973.**

Since time immemorial, pro-life activists have told the world that Roe was an undemocratic ruling – that it unjustly took the abortion law away from the people and their elected representatives. And yet, for 40 years, it has been a constant topic of debate in American politics. Nearly every one of the 2,000 men and women to have served in Congress since the decision has had to take a public position on the ruling. What other Supreme Court decision can you say that about? Is there any judicial opinion in American history which has so relentlessly been subjected to democratic election and debate?

It’s time to stop blaming the Court. No Justice from the Roe Court remains on the Court today. Every Justice now sitting on the Court was confirmed by Senators elected long after abortion became a political issue. Opportunity after opportunity to stop pro-choice judges arose. And in each case, the democratically elected Senate, representing the voice of the people, gave these pro-abortion judges lifetime tenure.

Neither has there been any shortage of time to pass some sort of Constitutional amendment. Indeed, Senate committee hearings on such an amendment were conducted in 1974, 1975, 1981, and 1983. The House had committee hearings in 1976. Collectively, they are impressively thorough. Only in 1983 did the committee see fit to send an amendment to the entire Congress for approval. It was not a pure right to life amendment, but it did at least give the states the power to ban abortion. Only 49 Senators voted yes – well short of the 2/3rds needed for passage.

More recently, in 1999 and 2003, the Senate passed symbolic resolutions which declared approval of the Roe ruling. And pro-life forces in the Senate have only dwindled since those years.

There have been a small handful of legislative victories. During the Bush years, the Born Alive Infants Protection Act passed. But even this paltry achievement is somewhat tarnished by having a current President who opposes it. The Bush years also gave us the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which took a decade to pass, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which expressly disclaimed any intent to limit or curb legal abortion. Real achievements, but mere pittance in the face of more than 50 million casualties.

By far the most significant victory came in the limitation of taxpayer funded abortions. But even this consensus appears to be falling apart.  Prior to the Clinton years, tax dollars were forbidden even for rape and incest abortions. When George W. Bush replaced Clinton in 2001, Congress never even attempted to eliminate the new rape and incest exceptions. These days, there is talk of eliminating the Hyde amendment altogether.

Just yesterday, Rasmussen released a new poll about abortion. 54% of respondents called themselves pro-choice, and only 38% of respondents called themselves pro-life. Polls haven’t been that bad for our side since the early ’90s. You can debate the precise accuracy of the poll, but you cannot deny that a majority of Americans favor legal abortion. For forty years, this nation has wanted killing, and the 2,000 men and women democratically elected to Congress have done nothing more than reflect this consensus.

 

**This is not counting Richard McIntyre (R-IN), who won a seat in 1984, voted for Speaker, but then was denied the chance to take the oath of office. I don’t have time to go into the details, but essentially the Democratic controlled House brazenly stole McIntyre’s seat. Let that be a lesson to anyone who still thinks Congressional Democrats are basically honest and decent human beings.

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Principles of Pro-life Voting

“Vote Pro-life.”

A common refrain this time of year. It’s good advice, but it requires more than a bit of interpretation. According to the Sojourners crowd, voting pro-life means casting ballots for unyielding stalwarts of taxpayer funded abortion (but don’t worry, they still want to reduce the incidence of abortion /sarc). Others have far stricter litmus tests, like support for a right to life Constitutional amendment. Here are my own, non-definitive thoughts about the best ways to truly vote pro-life

What is ‘Pro-life’?

Kay Bailey Hutchison, a retiring Republican Senator from Texas, is on record as favoring the right to abortion. In 2003, she voted to support the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. And yet, she usually got high marks from pro-life organizations based on her Senate voting record. In the present Congress for example, she voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and supported the Blunt amendment to overturn the HHS mandate. Essentially, she’s a pro-life vote on almost anything short of an outright ban.

Some pro-life organizations advise against voting for legislators like Hutchison. I disagree with that thinking. Hutchison is not ideal, but I will gladly accept smaller legislative victories like defunding PP. If a legislator will vote the right way on every measure that actually has a decent chance of passing, that’s good enough for me.

For the purposes of voting, I consider a candidate “pro-life” if they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, support conscience protections for medical professionals and institutions, and support common sense restrictions on practices like partial-birth or sex selective abortion. Some Democrats do not even meet these minimal standards, but still insist on disingenuously calling themselves “pro-life” –  for this reason, be wary of any Democrat who applies that label to himself.

Pro-choice Republican vs. Pro-choice Democrat

This is always a painful match-up. As much as it grieves me, I would probably vote for the Republican. First of all, just as “pro-life” Democrats can actually be quite pro-choice, many “pro-choice” Republicans will often vote with pro-lifers depending on the precise issue. In 2011, there was one vote where every Republican in the House of Representatives, including those who call themselves “pro-choice”, voted against taxpayer funded abortion. Also consider that if there had been just one more Republican in the Senate in 2009, whether pro-life or pro-choice, there would be no Obamacare today.

Sometimes though, the pro-choice Republican really is a total dud. Jacob Javits, a New York Senator until 1981, is a good example of a legislator who was utterly worthless to conservatives of any stripe. Even in those cases, I would still vote for the Republican. With a few exceptions, like the West Virginia legislature, no pro-life legislation is ever likely to get through unless Republicans have majorities. Committee chairmanships are extremely important.

What about voting for a third party candidate, or not voting? I look at either of those actions as basically ceding the decision to the rest of the electorate – saying that you do not care which of the two principal candidates wins. Because of committee chairmanships, I think there’s almost always reason to care who wins. I will admit an exception to this rule if the vast majority of Republicans in a state are pro-choice. This may or may not be the case in some of the New England states.

There is also the argument that it is best for the Republican party to be purified, and therefore pro-choice Republicans should be stopped whenever possible. This is a powerful line of reasoning. But in my opinion it should be reserved for primaries. If a pro-choice Republican cannot be taken down in a primary, the problem is not with the candidate – the problem is with the Republican voters.

Pro-life Republican vs. Pro-life Democrat

30 years ago, voting for the Democrat might have been a good idea. Pro-life Democrats were common in the party, and it would have been a shrewd move to help keep them common. Today, however, pro-life Democrats are almost extinct, and they’re not coming back. So you’re better off sticking with the Republican. A voter can rightfully question why a pro-life politician would purposefully align himself with such a horrifyingly anti-life political party. And once again, there is the question of which party controls the legislature. With Pelosi as Speaker, or Leahy as chairman of the judiciary committee, it’s cold comfort that some of the Democrats who put them in those positions are pro-life.

Pro-choice Republican vs. Pro-life Democrat

This might be the trickiest match up of all. Once again, voters should remember that “pro-life” Democrats and “pro-choice” Republicans do not always live up to their labels. And once again, voters should remember that leadership on the committees and in the legislature as a whole is crucially important. For these reasons, the Indiana Right to Life chapter decided in 2010 that they would no longer endorse pro-life Democrats. As a spokesman said, “We want people to understand that Democratic leaders have forced us to draw this hard line. We’ve tried to work with Democratic legislators in good faith, but their actions speak louder than words. Our legislation is killed every year by Democrats in the state legislature. Top Democratic leaders in Washington are dismantling pro-life gains we’ve worked for over four decades to achieve. And now we have been betrayed by three Indiana Democratic congressmen on the health care reform vote at the precise time when we needed them the most.”

Thus, much as I would hate to do so, I think I would vote for the Republican in most of these cases. But I can think of some circumstances where voting for the Democrat would be better. If Republicans have a safe legislative majority, but many of the Republican legislators are pro-choice, voting for the Democrat is a very wise move. Also, if it’s a race for governor, I would not hesitate at all to vote for a strongly pro-life Democrat. Finally, in states where Democrats dominate the legislatures, I would definitely vote for the Democrat. In Rhode Island for example, the Republicans have no hope of capturing the legislature for the foreseeable future, but there still is a very strong pro-life presence within the Democratic party.

The 1971 Kennedy Letter, and the Tragic Mirage of Pro-life Liberalism

If you’ve been around the pro-life movement for a while, you’ve probably heard of the letter Senator Ted Kennedy wrote in 1971 defending the unborn’s right to life.

If not, read it for yourself right now.

Whether or not the letter really reflected Kennedy’s views at the time is unknown. On the one hand, it was almost certainly some staffer or intern who wrote the letter rather than the Senator himself. Furthermore, Kennedy proved a loyal pro-choice vote in Congress the moment the ink dried on Roe v. Wade, and there is also some good evidence that his pro-choice stance dates as far back as 1964. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that Kennedy’s office would bother writing such an extensive letter to a non-consituent if Kennedy did not strongly believe in what the letter said.

Regardless of the letter’s sincerity, I have always found it a very moving, and inspiring bit of writing. In just a few short paragraphs, the pro-life case is laid out clearly, lovingly, and convincingly. The very last sentence is especially poignant

When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

As I read these words, I think about the vision for America they express. It’s a liberal vision, to be sure, but one where the unborn are loved, treasured, and protected. It’s a vision animated by uncorrupted and unadulterated kindness, empathy, and selflessness. And tragically, it’s a vision which is now lost forever.

But for one brief halcyon moment in the early to mid ’70s, tenderhearted pro-life liberalism had a real chance to become a major ideological stream within America. In those days, liberal icon Jesse Jackson would frequently speak in favor of the right to life. In 1972 the Massachusetts legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution to make all abortion illegal forever. Such was the status quo of the abortion issue in the only state in America which voted for McGovern the same year. Even after Roe, one of the strongest voices for life in Congress was Senator Harold Hughes, an ultra-liberal Democrat from Iowa. For a time, the heavily Democratic state of Rhode Island included a pro-life plank in the state Democratic party platform, and the legislature once called for a US Constitution amendment to recognize the right to life.

This was just some of the “seamless garment” pro-life liberalism which was quite common during the 1970s. But time marched on, and the glorious illusion vanished. Sexual libertinism rapidly and irrevocably invaded and took over liberal thought. Love for our unborn neighbors was just one casualty, along with respect for religious freedom. Care and concern for the entire human community fell by the wayside. In its place came an angry and self-centered generation, scornful of self-abnegation, and seeking freedom from all responsibility.

I write all this as a longtime conservative – I’d still rather have lived in early ’70s Utah than early ’70s Massachusetts. And yet, a lot of conservatism’s facets, like its slavish devotion to capitalism, its knee-jerk hatred of all taxes, its jingoistic flag waving, and its seeming aversion to peacemaking can often sadden me. But, given the current state of liberalism, it’s not as if I have anywhere else to go.

I wish the liberalism of Kennedy’s 1971 letter was still around, and that it could be the chief ideological rival to contemporary conservatism. America would be a nicer, more loving, and more responsible place, and a lot of conservatives wouldn’t have to worry so much about losing at the polls. A lot more children would be around too.

But what’s lost is lost. And I don’t see it ever coming back. Sadly, pro-life liberalism will have to remain a bittersweet memory which grows more and more distant with each passing year.

Why Abortion Will Always Remain Legal

Try to watch the whole thing.

Scary isn’t it? How on earth do you even begin to reason with these people? Logic and consistency are nowhere to be found, and those interviewed are either unfazed by or proud of their incoherence. And remember, the Democratic party is no fringe party, and the positions espoused by the Democrats in this video are not fringe positions. All it takes for a majority is to win over the even less rational and consistent swing voters. It wasn’t always this way.

In 1972, when McGovern came out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination, the McGovernites were a strange curiosity. At the convention, the McGovernites did not even have enough strength to add a pro-choice plank to the party platform. In November, after being labeled the candidate of ‘acid, amnesty, and abortion,’ McGovern went down in disastrous defeat, losing 49 states – most of them by brutal margins. He lost New York 59-41, and lost Maryland 61-37.

Forty years later, McGovernites have basically become the sum total of the Democratic party. The platform now calls for abortion on demand, without cost, and without exception. Pro-life Democrats, and moderate Democrats more generally have withered away. The fringe of 1972 comprises approximately half of the nation in 2012. They cannot be reached on abortion, nor can they be expected to provide even minimally persuasive reasons for holding to the pro-choice dogma, nor, as this video shows, can they even be consistent about valuing “choice.”

We are the losers of history. Armed with a message of truth and justice, a message to love children rather than kill them, we are fated to be ignored forever. 350 years into the so-called age of enlightenment, we have become more blind, and more unreasoning than ever before. Day by day, the death toll rises, and all around us, even in our very neighborhood, an ever growing chorus cheers, thrilled that one class of humans is still able to sacrifice another class. We are in the darkness of evening – the darkness that will not give way to morning, but a long, long night. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that we’ll ever emerge from that night.

 

1973: When Religious Freedom Still Mattered

There was a time, not so long ago, when liberals understood and championed the cause of religious freedom. Look no further than the very first abortion-related vote ever taken in Congress. The date was March 27, 1973; Roe was barely two months old, and already the pro-choice army had begun mobilizing to judicially force religious hospitals to perform abortions. Catholic Bishops announced that a court order forcing their hospitals to perform abortions would be met with civil disobedience. Unless Congress intervened quickly, the abortion wars in America were about to get really ugly really fast.

Senator Frank Church (D-ID)

When Frank Church, a pro-choice Democratic Senator from Idaho learned of this, he was horrified, and immediately introduced legislation to allow hospitals, doctors, and nurses the freedom of conscience on matters relating to abortion. This proposal received enthusiastic support from the rest of the Senate. Among the most vocal proponents was none other than the Liberal Lion himself, Ted Kennedy. During debate, he eloquently expressed the foundational importance of religious freedom in America. The only Senator to publicly express opposition to the Church amendment was New York RINO Jacob Javits, but even he ended up voting for it in the end.

The vote was 92-1 (the always eccentric William Fulbright cast the only nay vote). Even Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, the loudest and most extreme abortion advocate in Congress for most of the 1970s and 1980s, voted yea. Around the same time, Margaret Heckler, a pro-life feminist from Massachusetts, introduced several bills almost identical to Church’s in the House of Representatives. Although never voted on due to passage of the Church amendment, their cosponsors included far left pro-choice women like Patsy Mink (D-HI), Barbara Jordan (D-TX), and Shirley Chisholm (D-NY).

Needless to say, such a degree of unanimity would be absolutely unthinkable today. If the vote on the Blunt amendment is any indication, the Church amendment might have trouble even getting a majority in the current Senate. The militant, anti-religious pro-abortion ideology which was on the fringe in 1973 has become hardened dogma for the Democratic party four decades later. The value of religious freedom, long championed by liberals, is just another unfortunate sacrifice (much like the millions of babies) which must be made in pursuit of total reproductive freedom.

A massive battle is coming. If Romney wins in November, it will be delayed for a few more years, but it is coming nonetheless. The liberal support of religious freedom which was so evident in 1973 has vanished without a trace. The pro-life conscience no longer has any place in pro-choice orthodoxy; like an unwanted pregnancy, it must be destroyed. The era of common ground, and common values is over forever.

The Vanishing Pro-life Democrat

In a previous post, I mentioned how rare a true pro-life liberal has become. At the local and state level, a few like Ruben Diaz, Sr. still plod along. At the national level, they have completely vanished. The last ones standing were David Bonior, Dennis Kucinich, and Jim Oberstar. But then, almost all at once, Bonior got redistricted into oblivion, Kucinich sold his soul to run for president, and Oberstar flat out stopped caring.

Now, roughly a decade later, even finding a ‘conservative’ pro-life Democrat has become a difficult task. Scurry over to the NRLC website, and check out their ratings for members of the House. Very quickly, even the casual observer will notice one dominant trend: just about every Republican has a 100% rating, and just about every Democrat has a 0% rating. No one can possibly fail to recognize which party is the party of abortion.

To be fair, the NRLC somewhat dubiously includes two health care related votes in their tallies, which artificially inflate the scores of many Republicans, and deflate the scores of many Democrats. Throwing out these two votes, here is a complete list of Democrats who still have perfect pro-life scores.

Mike Ross (AR)

Dan Lipinski (IL)

Jerry Costello (IL)

Joe Donnelly (IN)

Collin Peterson (MN)

Mike McIntyre (NC)

Heath Shuler (NC)

Dan Boren (OK)

Nick Rahall (WV)

But even this list is too large. Ross has cast many pro-choice votes in prior years. Boren is a supporter of embryonic stem cell research. Rahall, Costello, and Donnelly all voted for the health care bill in 2010 despite opposition from the vast majority of the pro-life movement. That leaves Lipinski, Peterson, McIntyre, and Shuler as the truly reliable.  Out of a caucus of more than 190, that is an especially dismal performance.

The Senate is even grimmer. All 53 members of the Democratic caucus voted against defunding Planned Parenthood when it came to a vote this year. Senators like Bob Casey, Ben Nelson, and Joe Manchin, who all campaigned as pro-life, showed their true colors during that vote. Long gone are Democrats like Thomas Eagleton, William Proxmire, and Bennett Johnston, who could actually be counted on to stand up for human life.

To come directly to the point, on the national scale, pro-life Democrats have almost completely melted away. Increasingly, the pro-life movement is becoming exclusively a Republican endeavor. The few remaining Democrats, like Dan Lipinski and Heath Shuler, are little more than tokens. Their help is no longer needed, except perhaps to lend pro-life legislation a meaningless ‘bipartisan’ moniker.

As one might expect, this was not always the case. Go back a few decades, and you will find a Democratic party that was anything but homogenous on the abortion issue. For an illustration, I will use the final vote on the original Hyde amendment from 1976. Out of 244 Democrats, 152 voted yea, and only 92 voted nay. 62% of Democrats voted against taxpayer funded abortion! Needless to say, a similar vote breakdown today would be unthinkable.

Just this month, Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, claimed that she sees the party as “being more open. The pro-choice litmus tests are decreasing.” Well maybe they are, but I chalk that up to the pro-life faction of the party no longer being significant enough to warrant litmus tests anymore. At least 19 times out of 20, a novice Democratic politician will be pro-choice. If litmus tests are on the wane, the future is hardly bright.

Pro-life Democrats are an optimistic bunch. Theirs, they say, is the party of equality, the party of compassion, the party of the little people. Surely one day, they will realize the incompatibility of abortion with these ideals. And yet, for forty years, liberals as a whole have done nothing but run farther and farther toward the extremist edges of pro-choice ideology. Past performance is not a flawless indicator of the future, but for the moment, the outlook for pro-life Democrats can only be reasonably described as bleak.

Ruben Diaz, and the 7,000+ District Strategy.

Pro-life Democrats in politics are hard to find. And most of the ones that you do find are obviously to the right of the typical Democrat. Finding a bona fide pro-life liberal in politics? Now that’s a tall order! Most of the ones you do come across will eventually cave to pressure from the party base and abandon their pro-life convictions. Believe it or not, Dennis Kucinich used to have a perfect pro-life voting record in the 1990s, but abruptly embraced abortion as he moved toward running for president. Pro-life liberals in politics who stand pat, no matter how much abuse they get from the rest of their party, are almost non-existent.

Notice I said ‘almost,’ because Ruben Diaz, Sr., a State Senator from New York, is one such person. While holding fiscal views that would undoubtedly give Tea Partiers heart attacks, on the issue of abortion, his statements are absolutely incredible, and leave no room for misinterpretation:

Let me tell you something about being pro-choice:

A) Hitler was pro-choice. He chose to send the Jews to Auschwitz. That was not the Jews choice, that was Hitler’s choice.

B) Murderers and assassins are pro-choice. They choose to put a gun to your face and blow your head off. That is not your choice, that is their choice.

C) The baby in a woman’s womb will not choose the saline solution that will burn his skin away nor will he choose the forceps that will crack his little head off. That is not his choice, that is your choice.

But here’s the kicker – the Senate district Diaz represents is in the Bronx. According to the U.S. Election Atlas, the Bronx borough cast 88.71% of its vote for Barack Obama in 2008. That’s the third highest percentage for Obama out of every county in the nation, trailing only the 92.46% of the District of Columbia, and the 88.87% of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Diaz is not an aberration either; he’s been elected by his district three times, most recently in 2010 after easily beating back a challenge in the Democratic primary.

All this begs the question, if Diaz can repeatedly win in his district, which must be among the most liberal legislative districts in the entire nation, shouldn’t pro-life candidates be able to win anywhere? Howard Dean spoke of a 50 state strategy, and a handful of bloggers have talked about a 435 district strategy. There are more than 7,000 districts in the 50 state legislatures. Maybe it’s time that pro-lifers started thinking about a 7,000+ district strategy. Even in the impossibly liberal districts that no Republican is ever going to win, we ought to be on the look out for men and women like Ruben Diaz, Sr., who are unshakably pro-life, but otherwise firmly in step with the political leanings of their district.

Admittedly, it’s an uphill battle, and the vast majority of the time, lopsidedly Democratic districts will remain represented by a pro-choice legislator. But in state legislatures, which are usually quite small, every vote matters. A Ruben Diaz, Sr. from San Francisco, Chicago, or Seattle could one day end up being the critical vote to pass a law that saves hundreds of lives.