David Brooks's Latest Column on Abortion, Corrected

(Note: I took David Brooks's completely idiotic anti-choice "column" today where he says that Democrats should give up on preventing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, as if that would quell the anti-choice forces in this country, and I reverse engineered it. Brooks pretended that he was a Democratic consultant offering advice to the party. So I went Republican. It was ridiculously easy to write this from the opposing side.)

To: Republican Party Leaders

From: Imaginary Republican Consultant

Re: Late-Term Abortions

Dear Republican Leaders,

Last week I watched as our senators voted for the Republican bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Our people hung together. Only two Republicans voted with the other side. Yet as I was watching I kept wondering: How much is our position on late-term abortions hurting us? How many conservative priorities are we giving up just so we can have our way on this one?

Let me start with some history. Before Roe. v. Wade, the abortion debate looked nothing like it does today. Many leading pro-choice groups were on the right. In 1972, 68% of Republicans supported the position that "the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician." Only 59% of Democrats held that opinion. The Republican Party platform for the 1972 not only did not mention "abortion," it had support for affirmative action and the Equal Rights Amendment.

In 1973, Roe v. Wade changed all this. Still, even as anti-feminists like Phyllis Schlafly gained prominence, as late as 1975, Betty Ford, then First Lady, could go on 60 Minutes and say, "I feel very strongly that it was the best thing in the world when the Supreme Court voted to legalize abortion and, in my words, bring it out of the backwoods and put it in the hospitals where it belonged. I thought it was a great, great decision."

But then everything polarized. The pro-life movement grew on the right, and the Democratic Party embraced Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice movement. Republicans introduced an anti-abortion plank into their platform in 1976, while the Democrats merely mentioned that they did not want a new constitutional amendment banning abortion. Still, a new electoral coalition was born.

The Democratic Party became an alliance between its traditional pro-business wing and its burgeoning pro-choice wing. Millions of Americans became single-issue voters. They consider the right of women to control their bodies the great ethical issue of our time. Without pro-choice voters, Bill Clinton never would have been elected. Without single-issue voters who wanted pro-choice judges, there would never have been a President Barack Obama.

I understand that our donors (though not necessarily our voters) want to eliminate a woman’s right to choose at any point in her pregnancy. But do we want to end abortion rights so much that we are willing to tolerate another Democratic president? Do we want it so much that we may very well lose our congressional majorities? Do we want it so much that we see our agendas on immigration, regulatory reform, and repealing Obamacare thwarted and defeated?

Let’s try to imagine what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned. The abortion issue would go back to the states. The Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that roughly 21 states would outlaw abortion. Abortion would remain legal in probably 20 others. There’s a good chance that a lot of states would arrest anyone performing abortions, possibly even arresting women who try to get them. On top of that, many women would be harmed by trying to self-induce or going to unlicensed places in order to get an abortion. We know this is true because it is already happening in places that have severely restricted abortion rights, like Texas.

The pro-choice movement would be forced to turn its attention away from national elections. Single-issue pro-choice voters would become involved in local races and swarm to the Democratic Party. The abortion debate would become even more divisve as pro-life politicians are portrayed as harming women.

Roe v. Wade polarized American politics in ways that have been fundamentally bad for Republicans. If you don’t believe me, compare the size of the elected Republican majorities in 1995 to the size of the Democratic majorities in 2008. Without Roe v. Wade the landscape would shift. Yes, there have been short-term benefits in some races, but support for abortion has remained consistently above 50% in the United States.

We need to acknowledge our vulnerability here. Republicans support an end to all abortions, with a few exceptions, and especially abortions in the third trimester. But only 1% of all abortions take place after 20 weeks, and a large number are for medical reasons. As for the argument that babies can live outside the womb after 20 weeks, as Robin Marty writes in Cosmopolitan, "It is a ban on abortion at the very cusp of viability, at a point when only a 'tiny minority' of those who are born at that gestation and medically treated will survive without severe medical conditions."

We learn talking to women who have had third trimester abortions that it is not a decision taken lightly. Research has shown that while some third trimester abortions are for reasons of fetal anomalies or the mother's health, many occur at 20 weeks or later because of the lack of access to abortion services available for women, restrictions that Republicans have supported for the last several decades. It could be that one of the current behaviors that future generations will regard as most barbaric is our treatment of women.

We also shouldn’t take millennial voters for granted. Boomers saw the pro-choice movement as integral to their feminism. Millennials share this attitude. A recent Pew poll found that 65% of Americans age 18-29 believe that abortion should be legal in "all/most cases," the most of any age group. Even more striking, only 33% of 18-29 year-olds believe that abortion should be illegal in "all/most cases." And while polls suggest that a majority supports a ban on abortions after 20 or 22 weeks, a poll in 2016 found that a clear majority supported abortions at up to 24 weeks if a child is likely to be born with defects due to the Zika virus. So it seems that this is an issue that people are still confused on.

I’m asking us to rethink our priorities. What does America need most right now? One of our talking points is that late-term abortions are morally wrong. But if there are other things we believe are morally wrong, why are we giving abortion priority over all of our other issues combined?


Your Imaginary Consultant