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January 13, 2006

The myth of the pro-choice Republican

Blogging for Choice:

Anticipating the demise of Roe and finding the novel silver lining is a cottage industry in American political journalism. Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift takes this fanciful genre to a new plane of implausibility when she argues that the end of Roe would destroy the Republican Party:

Politically, the end of Roe would crack open the Republican coalition in the country and on Capitol Hill. The party is full of secret pro-choicers, Republicans who signed on to a package that included the pro-life position with the belief that it would never happen. They've kept their mouth shut all these years, but they'll be mad as hell and not willing to take it any more.

There are no secret pro-choice Republicans. If you don't care enough about choice to oppose Alito, you just don't care. At this point, even "out" pro-choice Republicans like Arlen Specter don't care enough about Roe to vote against Alito.

Today's New York Times editorial lays it on the line: Alito said that the constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion in 1985, he also refused to say that Roe had become "settled law" in the meantime. So, Alito won't say that he's changed his mind since 1985, and he denies that the constitutional status of Roe has changed since then. Therefore, we know that his opinions about the constitutional status of abortion in 1985 are still operative.

A vote for Alito is a vote against Roe. If Clift's legions of secret pro-choice Republicans aren't speaking up now, it's safe to assume they don't exist.


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It's not novel to say that the Republicans (and Democrats) are first and foremost the party of big business, who happen to exploit issues such as abortion to shore up their political base, but have no intention of actually doing anyting about it. It's probably accurate to say that if Roe is overturned it IS the end of the Republicans. The Republicans know this, hence it's not unreasonable to assume it's just a bluff. This analysis is actually fairly common among leftists and isn't really anything new. That's not say that Alito isn't dangerous or shouldn't be opposed or that it's impossible that Roe will be overturned. The threat should be taken seriously, but in my opinion it is still unlikely.

I just don't buy it. I agree that Republicans are the party of big business. Many of these people are personally pro-choice, but they don't have to care about the constitutional status of abortion.

The end of Roe would mean end of abortion for a lot of poor women, but well-off women will still have access to medical abortions. If your pre-existing ethos says that rights are for those who can purchase them at going market rates, the end of Roe won't get you up in arms.

I think some clarification is in order.

At the federal level, there are no pro-choice Republican politicians, since the three actual pro-choicers (Chafee, Snowe, Collins) and the nominal pro-choicers (Murkowski, Specter, ???) do nothing to advance the cause.

However, there are lots of pro-choice Republican voters. I've had conversations with several. They say "I'm pro choice, but I vote for Bush because I know that Roe won't really be overturned. It's all a shell game for tax cuts". Actually overturning Roe would most likely (a) increase public support for reproductive rights, and (b) cause defections to the Democratic party (see e.g. 1986, 1991-2).

I don't think think the Republicans would be up in arms if Roe was overturned out of fear that it would prevent them from getting an abortion; rather, they fear a total loss of support among the public.
True, many of their other policies are unpopular, but those are policies that actually matter to big business, therefore they don't give a damn whether there is popular support or not. Abortion just doesn't matter enough for the Republicans to risk alienating so many people. The fundies are rabid and need to be appeased, which takes precedence over appeasing the pro-choice Republicans, but the Republican leadership still knows that they are out there and that in general the public supports a woman's right to choose. In sum, it's just a losing battle for them and they (most likely) know it. However, I don't have much confidence in my own opinions and I could very well be full of shit. Alito is still crazy and dangerous though

To clarify, a January 2001 ABCNews-WaPo poll shows 46% of all Republicans say abortion should be "legal in all cases" or "legal in most cases". A June 2001 poll, when everyone wanted to be pro-life to agree with the President on stem-cell research, had 40 of all self-identified Republicans -- or between 12 and 16% of the electorate -- as pro choice. Now, a lot of these folks are in the Northeast and Pacific Coast, so who cares, but some of them are in the greater metro area of Atlanta, the VA portions of the DC suburbs, Colorado, and other states that are in play.

If Roe is overturned then that would probably lead to a constitutional crisis in the US. Many governors would consider the Supreme Court ruling unlawful and would call for the impeachment of Alito.

Nicholas, I agree that there are individual Republicans who support choice, but I don't think that they are likely to play the role that Clift envisions for them.

All of us have some way we would run the country if given absolute unchecked power to set policy and design institutions on our own. It's not nonsensical to call these our policy positions.

But when it comes to people with actual - but limited - power to affect policy, it's meaingless what they think is ideal. What is meaningful to us is what they will exert that power to pursue. Lindsay's right. Ideal policy preferences are relevant to the powerless, the omnipotent, and analysts. They're not particularly relevant to how we evaluate Congresspeople.

I expect that if Roe is overturned, voters will elect pro-choice majorities in both houses and probably a Dem president. Controversies about women crossing state lines for abortions will be really ugly.

I'm pro-choice (consistently, not just on abortion) but think that Roe was wrongly decided. That is, while I don't like state laws against abortion, I don't see a plausible case for declaring them unconstitutional.

And there are others who think that Roe was rightly decided but that on the balance Alito is the best we can expect from Bush. The fact that someone supports abortion rights doesn't mean that he doesn't care about other issues.

Most Republican officeholders oppose abortion because the Republican candidates are selected by the party's right wing. But there are many moderate and libertarian Republicans who support abortion rights and may be tempted to go over to the Democratic party as a result.

If Clift's legions of secret pro-choice Republicans aren't speaking up now, it's safe to assume they don't exist.

Why just now? Is there good reason to believe that those who voted for John Roberts are actually pro-choice? Just because Alito has been more evasive on the question doesn't mean that all of the sudden this week is the week that we're supposed to give up on pro-choice Republicans. This applies to Democrats too, tho very few of them depend upon choice to give them faux Maverick status.

And there are others who think that Roe was rightly decided but that on the balance Alito is the best we can expect from Bush.

Why? I asked this in another comments section, and got no detailed reply from the person there. What is there about Alito that suggests that he'll be anything short of a wet dream for conservatives?


For one, his past rulings suggest that he may take a more reasonable view of Congress's powers than the "everything is interstate commerce, and therefore Congress can do anything" status quo.

I can't say I have high hopes for Alito, but I don't exactly have high expectations for Bush. I want another Clarence Thomas, but that's not going to happen, so I guess I should just be happy that we're not getting another Harriet Miers.

Putatively "pro-choice" Republicans plainly don't give a shit, and why should they? Whatever happens to Roe, the women in their lives will continue to freely exercise their de facto "choice" to have safe abortions performed by competent practioners in clean, well-equipped surroundings. The absence of de jure choice matters only to the poor women who will now be forced by the state to bear children they don't want and can't afford.

I think your position is naive. That's like saying there are no pro-gun Democrats. Human beings will endure alot of indignities if it means winning. This is essential to the human condition. But, if they lose then people get bitchy. I think Clift's premise is far closer to the truth than you'd like to believe.


I asked this:

What is there about Alito that suggests that he'll be anything short of a wet dream for conservatives?

And your reply is that he supports further judicial intervention to strike down legislation as ultra vires the commerce power.

Do you see how your statement was nonresponsive?

You, as a libertarian, seem to think your freedom is more threatened by concurrent jurisdiction than unrestrained executive, so you want another Thomas. OK. Why should I, or most of the commenters on the blog, not oppose Alito?

Dan Schneider--

We've seen speculation like Clift's often enough in the past, but it's not rooted in anything beyond wishful thinking. Abortions have already been restricted severely in many states, and three have only one provider each.

80% of Australians are pro-choice, but the right to have an abortion is not guaranteed. Not only have the Liberal and National parties avoided destruction, their coalition has flourished. As Lindsay says, women with financial resources always find ways to obtain safe abortions without fear of prosecution, so "pro-choice" conservatives are not motivated by self-interest to protect reproductive rights.

abortion makes my day

Alito is right in saying that Roe is not settled law. Remember Roe was decided in 1972, only 36 years ago.

Dred Scot was overturned at 98 years. Originally decided in 1858 and overturned by Brown v Board of Education in 1956. To say that Roe is settled law because of simply the number of years it has been since decided is to say that Dred Scot because of being 98 years old should not have been overturned as well.

So are we to assume that those who use the idea of Roe being settled law are truly pocket racists, believing that minorities are separate but equal.

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