THE BLOG

It Was a Good Election for the Pro-Choice Movement -- But the Culture Wars Aren't Over!

11/13/2012 10:05 am ET | Updated Jan 13, 2013
  • Carole Joffe Author, 'Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients and the Rest of Us'

After the recent election, Maureen Dowd wrote this in her New York Times column: "The election about the economy also sounded the death knell for the Republican culture wars."

And Robert Creamer in The Huffington Post wrote this: "This election will go down as the final chapter in the Right Wing's 'culture war'. They lost."

Would that Dowd and Creamer and others proclaiming the end of the cultures were correct -- but unfortunately they are not. They are no more correct than Nicholas Kristoff was when he stated, after the 2006 mid-term elections, that "the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars."

Abortion of course is not the only component of the culture wars, but it is unquestionably one of the major ones, if not the major one. And neither the 2006 election, nor Obama's 2008 victory put the abortion issue to rest. Recall that after the 2010 mid-term elections, there was an unprecedented amount of abortion restrictions passed in the states -- four times as many restrictions were passed in 2011 as in the previous year. Congress, after it came under Republican control in January 2011, passed abortion measures noteworthy for a kind of extremism that had not been seen before in such legislation. Remember the Orwellian-named "Protect Life Act" that stipulated that hospitals did not have to offer abortions to women in life-threatening situations, and were even not obliged to refer such women to other hospitals?

To be sure, this year's election contained much good news for abortion rights supporters. With respect to the Supreme Court, Obama's victory is huge, as he will only nominate candidates for the expected vacancies on the Court who will uphold Roe v. Wade, while Romney had made clear his intention to nominate those in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. The spectacular defeat of several Republican senators, who had been expected to win, because of their bizarre and offensive comments about rape and abortion, also was very heartening. Not only did the Democrats unexpectedly made gains in the Senate, when earlier predictions had them losing control of that body altogether, but the misogyny that has long been part of sectors of the anti-abortion movement, and well known to prochoicers, became evident, thanks to cable television and the Internet, to the American people as a whole -- and they clearly were repelled by it.

In this coming session of Congress, therefore, we can expect much less, if any, of the stream of anti-abortion bills that were passed in the last session. And if there are such bills, once again the Democratically-controlled Senate will serve as a firewall. But the real consequential action against abortion takes place in the states. Here, nothing will likely change with respect to anti-abortion legislation. In spite of Obama's and Democrats' senatorial victories, the Republicans did very well in state races, and now control 30 governorships. A furious and alarmed anti-abortion movement will no doubt redouble its efforts to demand its due from those politicians who it helped put in office. As an example of what we can expect from many red states in the days to come, consider that in Ohio, just two days after the voters there gave Obama a high profile victory, legislators announced their intention to re-introduce a controversial "fetal heartbeat bill, which, if ever implemented, would ban nearly all abortions in the state. The culture wars, at least on the abortion front, sadly are not going away.