Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Abortion and the Parties


There are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans. But they are the exception, not the rule. Why?

You can make the case that Republicans should be pro-choice. They have traditionally been the party most skeptical of government power. On economics, they think things are best left to the market, not government bureaucrats. They are often strong supporters of states rights as well. And yet, official Republican policy is to have the federal government step in and make a very personal decision for individual women.

You could also make the case that Democrats should be pro-life. They believe that the government has an important role to play in expanding rights and protecting the vulnerable. Nothing is more vulnerable than a fetus. And yet when it comes to abortion, Democratic politicians sound like libertarians. They say things like “a woman and her doctor should make the decision, not a government bureaucrat in Washington DC.”

The reason either party is usually identified with one side of the abortion debate is history. Christian conservatives became part of the Republican base in the 1950s-1970s in large part because of a fierce desire to fight “Godless communism.” Christian conservatives supported more traditional gender roles as well. The founders of the conservative movement made a conscious effort to include religious conservatives as part of their base. That meant feminists who supported abortion rights would have been out of sorts in the Republican Party, and so had to be Democrats.

Still, I think it’s regrettable that much of the time, a candidate has to take a position on either side of the abortion debate because he agrees with a party on most other issues. There’s nothing contradictory about someone supporting universal healthcare, more funding for public schools, gay rights, and increases in the minimum wage, and being pro-life. Likewise, there’s nothing inconsistent about opposing government intervention in private affairs and being pro-choice.

At the end of the day, abortion should transcend party lines. I think the abortion debate would be better off if people could vote their authentic preferences, instead of the party line on this fundamental issue.

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