The Democratic Party’s commitment to defending the rights of all Americans is one of our greatest strengths. Yet a recent commentary in the New York Times by Thomas Groome argues that this principle doesn’t apply to women’s most fundamental freedoms — the right to decide whether, how, when, and with whom we have families. Not only does this show an ignorance about how most Americans process this issue, but it also gives Catholics a outsize role as decision makers in an election where every factor mattered.
Let’s review: While Hillary Clinton won by almost three million votes nationwide, she lost by about 85,000 votes in three key Electoral College states. While it’s certainly possible that the margin of Catholics who voted for Trump could have made the difference, so could have many other factors and constituencies: for example, the non-college educated white women who swung through the election and finally landed on Trump after the Comey letter came out, or the African American men and young people who didn’t turn out in the same numbers as they did in 2012, or the high percentage of third-party voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida who might have made up the difference if they had been forced to choose between Clinton and Trump. And that’s to say nothing of the effect voter suppression laws had on the overall vote tally in key states.
We could certainly make a very compelling case that had every American who should have been allowed to vote was actually able to vote, the tide would have turned. We could similarly argue that a stronger and quicker stance on student debt, or climate change, or the prison industrial complex would have won the election. Finally, the number of third party voters definitely indicates that a long-term strategy of eroding confidence in both parties has been successful. (P.S. Both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson support legal access to abortion.)
But Groome conveniently ignores all of these people and facts in order to cherry pick points that — let’s be real — fits a story he’s been telling his whole life despite significant evidence to the contrary. The real question is why the New York Times would give him such a platform.
Yes, Hillary Clinton ran on a platform that actively highlighted reproductive rights. That she did so was music to the ears of so many women who are tired of being told that our fundamental freedoms are up for negotiation. Hillary understands that there is no way for women to attain economic security, education, professional achievement, or lift ourselves out of poverty if we don’t start with centering our ability to plan our own families.
And yes, Hillary ran on repealing the Hyde Amendment, something that women of color have fought hard to have recognized as nothing more than discrimination with significant impact on low-income women. The fact that Groome singles this out is proof of how deaf and blind he is to the real struggles of everyday women in this country.
But let’s take on his core point: If Hillary’s support of abortion rights were truly her Achilles’ heel, don’t you think there would have been ads upon ads run against her on these issues? By our count, the exact opposite occurred — not one single ad was run against her for her position on abortion. Not by Donald Trump. Not by any Republican Party committee. Not by any outside group. This is because our opponents know that it’s actually a losing issue for them, a point proved by Frank Luntz when he reported flatlining among independents in his debate dial tests when Trump spoke in support of overturning Roe v. Wade.
There is one truth in Groome’s piece. People can and do have nuanced feelings about abortion, especially in theory. He’s correct that theoretic support is low for later-term abortion when offered up to voters. What he fails to mention is that support quickly solidifies for decision making to be left to a woman and her doctor when real stories get told. This was true when the issue was put in front of voters in Albuquerque in 2013, when a ballot measure banning the procedure after 20 weeks went down by double digits after an education campaign told these real stories. It was also true last year during the Zika pandemic, when voters felt like Zika affected mothers should have the ability to make determinations about their pregnancies with their doctors and no one else.
But what is not nuanced is how the vast majority of Americans feel about the role politicians should have in making these decisions for people. Poll after poll shows that 7 in 10 Americans believe in keeping abortion legal and accessible regardless of their personal feelings about whether they would choose abortion themselves. Seven in 10 Americans also oppose overturningRoe v. Wade. This is not just a majority. This is a consensus that stretches across state and party lines.
Many of these folks believe abortion is simply a routine procedure to terminate an unintended pregnancy. Some have conflicted feelings but don’t believe in sitting in judgement of their friends and neighbors’ decisions. Some understand that when abortion is made illegal, the number of abortions don’t go down but the number of deaths and injuries to women go up, which is also morally reprehensible.
What unites all of these supporters of legal abortion — and where there is no nuance whatsoever — is a belief in individual freedom to make private medical decisions. They are united by the belief that that politicians and the government have no place making those decisions for us, or interfering in those decisions.
Leaders like Senator Tim Kaine provide a strong example that this uniting principle makes it possible to be both a Catholic and a pro-choice Democrat. Senator Kaine has acknowledged that he is personally opposed to abortion — but he has at the same time made it clear that he knows it is not his place (or anyone else’s) to make this decision for a woman, and that abortion should remain legal in this country.
We are a nation founded on the idea of freedom for all. NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 1.2 million member-activists span the spectrum of geography, political affiliation, and religious belief, but they all understand that protecting and expanding reproductive freedom is central to this ideal. It so happens that most Americans agree with this point. Yet standing up for women and our right to determine our own destiny would still be the right thing to do even if such widespread agreement were absent.
We know that abortion access is part of the bigger fight for personal freedom and women’s empowerment — the fight for a nation in which women can have the dignity of making decisions that are best for our families without interference from politicians. And we will not compromise on this ideal. And anyone who suggest that Democrats do otherwise is peddling in bad ethical and strategic advice.