Let them eat cake

The latest issue of Seattle's The Stranger uses this year's NARAL Chocolate for Choice fundraiser -- an "evening of utter decadence . . . supporting a woman's right to choose" -- to look at the shifting politics of abortion, from the perspective of the left and the Democratic Party. This is the first such fundraiser since Bush's victory in November, says author and performance editor Annie Wagner. It comes at a time when the Dems are in visible "turmoil over how and whether to woo back socially moderate voters."

A flashpoint that Wagner focuses on is Senator Hillary Clinton's speech late last month to Family Planning Advocates of New York. In the speech, Clinton reaffirmed her pro-choice bona fides but then went looking for "common ground" with people with vaguely pro-life views. To wit, "I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic, choice to many, many women."

Wagner explains that while there was more to the speech than the senator's talk of common purpose, "it was her conciliatory language on abortion that dropped like a bomb."

Karen Cooper, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, attempted to defuse that bomb, saying she didn't think "anybody, at least not in my organization, certainly not me personally, has denied the importance of women making that decision [to have an abortion]."

Cooper refused, for political reasons, to endorse the idea that abortions are necessarily "sad" or "tragic." She explained, "I think the range of emotions after abortion can go from relief to sadness, but I don't think that has anything to do with whether a woman should be able to make that decision for herself."

Wagner rightly situates Clinton's remarks within the wider context of the Democratic Party's squabbles. "There is some cause, outside Clinton's loaded speech, to believe that the Democratic Party is rethinking its dogmatic support for abortion rights," Wagner writes. I'll let her count the ways:

There's the ascension of Harry Reid, a Mormon opponent of legalized abortion, to the position of Senate minority leader. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which recruits Democratic candidates to run against vulnerable Republicans, has signaled its support for two anti-choice candidates in the upcoming 2006 race against Republican Senators Rick Santorum and Lincoln Chafee. And although Howard Dean, a pro-choice doctor, eventually beat out all his opponents in the race for Democratic National Committee Chair, Washington State Democratic Party Chair Paul Berendt noted that anti-choice candidate Tim Roemer "had the support of [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi, which many of us thought was strange."

Turning back to Hillary for a minute, Wagner says the jury is still deliberating "on whether a more reluctant embrace of the moral necessity of legal abortion will play in the political arena." She adds, "Bill Clinton's famous hope that abortion be 'safe, legal, and rare' was ingenious because even supporters of reproductive freedom could happily sign off on reducing the incidence of an expensive, invasive medical procedure while increasing access to contraception."

Wagner says Senator Clinton's "'sad, even tragic' description takes what was -- in her husband's formulation -- neutral territory, and turns it into an emotional minefield."

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