EJ Dionne reflects on the meaning of Rudy Giuliani’s decision to speak plainly about his support for abortion rights and what it means for the Republican Party. Instead of acknowledging that his front-runner status despite his well-known pro-choice views demonstrates a larger tent than the media usually credits the GOP for having, Dionne argues that it reveals a cynical reliance on pro-life emotions to harvest votes:
Giuliani will also test the seriousness of those who claim that abortion is the decisive issue in the political choices they make.
Will conservative Catholic bishops and intellectuals, along with evangelical preachers and political entrepreneurs, be as tough on Giuliani as they were on John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign? If they are not, how will they defend themselves against charges of partisan or ideological hypocrisy?
Republicans in power have done remarkably little to live up to their promises to antiabortion voters. Yes, President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, and the two justices Bush appointed to the Supreme Court joined the 5 to 4 majority to uphold it. But all third-trimester abortions combined account for less than 1 percent of abortions.
Republicans are steadfast against using public money to pay for abortions. That leaves abortions available to better-off women who can afford them and who often vote Republican. It limits access only for low-income women, who rarely vote Republican.
What Republicans have stopped pushing, or even talking much about, is a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe v. Wade, the landmark case legalizing abortion. They prefer gauzy language that sends soothing messages to pro-lifers without upsetting voters who favor abortion rights.
It’s probably best to take these arguments one at a time. First, Giuliani has not tried to use his Catholicism as a campaign point. Kerry made quite a show of attending Mass as part of his presidential campaigning in 2004, and he was not alone in that, either; other pro-choicers like Nancy Pelosi did the same. The Church reacted to that by reminding them that support for abortion violated the basic tenets of Church teaching and put Kerry, Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and others in danger of excommunication — a stand that Pope Benedict reiterated in Mexico earlier this month.
Kerry made his Catholicism an issue, and critics pointed out the hypocrisy. I doubt Giuliani will make that mistake, and up to now, he hasn’t.
It’s true that third-trimester abortions account for less than 1% of all abortions. It’s also true that the US has aborted over 44 million children in the past four decades, which means that we have aborted almost a half-million viable infants in the third trimester. That’s nothing to shrug off. Note also that the partial-birth abortion kills the child by delivering all but the head and then deliberately murdering it by sucking out its brain. Even its supporters couldn’t come up with a single objective reason to perform that procedure.
Republicans oppose public financing for abortions because we don’t believe that the federal government should be in the business of aborting babies. If it’s a choice, as abortion supporters keep reminding us, then let it remain a choice. It’s not a question of keeping abortion an option only for the rich, and that formulation is very disingenuous. And if Dionne believes that women of means who choose abortions routinely vote Republican, then I’d like to have a little of what he’s drinking today.
Republicans have stopped talking about a constitutional amendment because Republicans can count. Not only will it not happen, it won’t even come close. Further, Republicans have decided that what ails the Constitution isn’t a lack of amendments but judges who like to legislate from the bench. Eventually, Roe will get overturned not because a Supreme Court wants to make abortion illegal but because a Court will eventually have the intellectual honesty to admit that the decision amounts to an egregious and dangerous overreach by the judiciary. When that happens, abortion will still be legal — but the issue will return to the state legislatures, where it belonged in the first place.
Nothing Rudy has said or done in his public career conflicts with anything Dionne has mentioned in this column. It’s true that Rudy will face some strong opposition from single-issue voters — but the real story is that those have proven far fewer thus far than the media has credited.