A Philosopher's Blog

The Abortion Issue

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 24, 2012

, member of the United States House of Represe...

Thanks to Todd Akin, the issue of abortion is once again in the political spotlight. While the Republican leadership uniformly chastised Akin for his remarks about “legitimate rape”, the social conservatives in the Republican party still support Akin’s (and Ryan’s) view of abortion.

This year the Republicans platform is supposed to (once again) include a person hood plank. While the final wording has yet to be set, CNN received a leaked version that states:“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Lest anyone think this is something entirely new, similar (though less extreme) planks have been included in 2000, 2004, and 2008. These did not get much attention, but Akin’s words have brought the spotlight to this plank.

While the social conservatives regard this as a very important matter, the Republican leadership clearly wants to push the spotlight off this issue and onto the economy. After all, the economy is seen as Obama’s weak point and the Republicans stand a better chance of winning on this issue. However, if abortion continues to be an issue, this could bode ill for the Republicans.

Naturally, people do point out that there are anti-abortion women. I am well aware of this and I even know women who oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds. However, most Americans believe that abortion should remain legal. This alone makes abortion something of a losing battle for the Republicans.

It might be replied that the Republicans can still win over women who are pro-life with their pro-life position and win over pro-choice women by their claims about the economy. This is, of course, a good strategy. In the past, the Republicans have been able to include a pro-life agenda while winning over women voters, in part because some women are pro-life and in part because pro-choice Republican women could rest assured that nothing would come of the pro-life agenda. The Republican party was also regarded as not being hostile to women, at least by most people in the mainstream. However, things have changed.

One substantive change has been the push to severely restrict abortion and even eliminate it. While a small number of pro-life woman might favor this, there are still plenty of  pro-life women (and men) who believe that abortion should still be allowed in cases of rape, incest and when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. As might be imagined, pushing such a restrictive view of abortion would not play well on the national stage. However, one thing that favors the Republicans here is the fact that people tend to believe, based on the past, that this position was just thrown in as a bone to the social conservatives and that Romney would not really make it so. As such, people who might be dismayed by this view can also feel they can safely ignore it.

On stylistic change has been the language and approach of certain Republicans, especially Ryan and Akin. In  the legislation penned by Ryan and Akin, the term “forcible rape” was introduced and this created the impression that Ryan and Akin think that only certain types of rape are “rapey” enough to allow for a woman or girl to have an abortion. Akin obviously tossed gasoline  on this fire when he used “legitimate rape” and made false claims about the female body’s ability to defend against being impregnated by rape. I would imagine this sort of language is unappealing to women and creates a rather negative impression of the Republican party. Interestingly, while the mainstream Republicans rushed to distance themselves from Akin and to condemn his words, the Republican party seems to be sticking with Akin’s principles regarding abortion. As such, they seem to be sending the message that women’s rights should be restricted but politicians should not talk about it that way.

Since the election is still a few months away, the Republicans have time to do damage control and to attempt to make this a non-issue for the election. Presumably they want it to be important and not important at the same time-important for the social conservatives, yet ignored by everyone else.

While some are casting Akin’s remarks as an error in which he misspoke, it is tempting to some to think that what was seen was a moment of honesty-that is, the true face of this sort of social conservatism was revealed in all its ignorance and misogyny.

In closing, the  abortion issue is such that Obama cannot win on it, yet Romney could lose on it. That is, Obama will not win the election by holding to his pro-choice view. However, the way the Republicans handle (or mishandle) the issue can antagonize enough voters (especially women) to cause Romney to lose. Obama is currently ahead with women voters and incidents like these can only help him.

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2 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on August 24, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Does anybody seriously believe that abortion rights in the U.S. are in danger?

    If anything, I think that abortion rights should be extended to men. Why should only women have abortion rights?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 24, 2012 at 8:57 am

      You make a good point. Since about the time of Reagan, the Republicans have been leading on the religious right with sweet words and empty promises (“of course I’ll pass the anti-abortion laws baby…but, you know, later…after you give me your vote”). Using the past as our guide, what people should expect is that the mainstream Republicans will say “blah, blah, anti-abortion, yadda, yadda family families, blah, blah, no exceptions, blah” and then leave things exactly as they have been. So, they have to speak sweet, empty words to the religious right, while winking at the other voters.

      I would think that after getting betrayed time and time again by the Republicans, the religious right would get that they are just being used. As Akin found out, the mainstream just wants them for one thing-their votes. When they start actually saying what they believe in public, they get thrown under the bus. Of course, they are in a bind-after all, they are such a small minority that they have no chance as a third party and the Democrats will not pander to them. After all, the Democrats are busy pandering to and then betraying their own special interest groups.

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