In light of the recent idiocy spewed by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, arguing that
victims of “legitimate” rape have superhuman contraceptive powers, I expected the Democratic Party to take some shots, spotlight the insanity, spend a few days with a bullhorn condemning his stance – and then move on. However, it seems like Obama’s campaign may have overplayed its hand, using these comments and the media frenzy that followed to place its fairly radical position on abortion—virtually unlimited legal access to abortion—at the center of his reelection campaign, and it might just end up hurting his chances at reelection.
It is difficult to see how elevating an abortion rights position held by a minority of Democrats (not to mention the rest of the country) can help the President’s reelection campaign. Solidly blue Democratic states and single-issue pro-abortion rights voters, the one group that solidly favors the exact position of the party platform, were solidly supporting Obama prior to the comments made by Akin. More broadly, a May 2012 Gallup poll showed that a mere 41% of voters identify as pro-choice, a figure lower than those taken around the time of past presidential elections in which Democratic presidential candidates suffered a net loss in votes on the issue of abortion among single-issue voters. A 2011 poll showed that within the Democratic Party, 44% believe that abortion should be legal in only a few or under no circumstances. An even larger number favor some restrictions on abortion (including 84% support for informed consent). The hard-line position on abortion, rejecting such restrictions, could alienate a substantial number of swing voters in swing states like Ohio, who will likely be deciding the election come November.
It almost seems like the party has gone out of its way to snub those who reject an absolutist pro-abortion rights position. A number of Democrats, including former President Jimmy Carter, proposed changes to the Democratic party platform that would have been more inclusive for those of us who cannot support abortion rights for reasons of personal conscience while also highlighting points of agreement, such as support for efforts to reduce abortions by assisting families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies, to give more options to women as they face pregnancy, and to increase access to education, healthcare, childcare, and child support. These changes seem reasonable for the self-professed “big-tent” party. These changes were nevertheless rejected, in favor of retaining some of the most hard-line abortion rights language imaginable, stating unequivocal support of Roe v. Wade and rejecting any limitations on access to abortion. This rejection, coupled with a proud trumpeting of this radical position, can only hurt the party in the long run. It virtually rules out regaining control of the House of Representatives in 2012.
There are many of us who choose to vote for the Democratic Party in spite of its platform’s stance on abortion. A full third of the Democratic Party identifies as pro-life, and around a quarter of Obama’s supporters in 2008 identified as pro-life. We believe that the healthcare and economic policies pursued by the administration will ultimately reduce the number of abortions and believe that these policies (abortion notwithstanding) will be better for the American people overall, particularly for the middle class and the poor.
Watching the Democratic National Convention speeches, there were moments when I was touched, motivated, and proud of my country. But I was sickened by the prideful, almost gleeful embrace of abortion as a selling point for the Party, which popped up again and again in both the speeches and commentary (though often couched in the vague language of “health” and “rights”).
My twitter feed is full of pregnant women (many Democrats) who had to leave their television sets because of all the abortion talk and those startled by the focus, again and again, on the issue, which proved a distraction from the otherwise forward-thinking, positive messages and goals articulated at the convention. I would imagine that even for those who do not share my pro-life perspective and have mixed feelings on the issue of abortion, a sizeable chunk of the population, the sight of thousands of Democrats thunderously cheering unrestricted access to abortion would be alienating and maybe even a little disturbing. Many Americans with a centrist position on abortion see it as a tragedy, not something to be cheered like a game-winning touchdown.
The Democratic leadership is simply out of touch with the American people on this issue. And they risk costing President Obama the votes of pro-life Democrats and independents, as well as swing voters who favor greater restrictions on abortion. President Obama has been in a solid position to win reelection for months and he could easily still go on to win. But if economic conditions remain stable and the race tightens, it will be the excesses of the abortion rights absolutists that is to blame. And if the President loses a state like Ohio because of abortion and this tips the election, their extremism may imperil the lives and well-being of millions of Americans and the future of essential programs like Medicare.