Must reads: The Atlantic offers a blunt pair of think pieces on hot late-term abortion debates

The Atlantic ran a headline the other day that really made me stop and look twice.

(Wait for it.)

I realize that The Atlantic Monthly is a journal of news and opinion. Every now and then, that means running essays by thinkers who challenge the doctrines held by the magazine’s many left-of-center readers in blue zip codes.

This was especially true during the glory years when the Atlantic was edited by the late, great Michael Kelly — an old-school Democrat who frequently made true believers in both parties nervous. Click here for a great Atlantic tribute to Kelly, who was killed while reporting in Iraq in 2003.

It really helps for journalists to read material that challenges old lines in American politics. In my own life, there have been very few articles that influenced my own political (as opposed to theological) thinking more than the classic Atlantic Monthly piece that ran in 1995 with this headline:

On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position

Principled yet pragmatic, Lincoln's stand on slavery offers a basis for a new politics of civility that is at once anti-abortion and pro-choice

This brings me to that Atlantic headline the other day that made my head spin. In this case, my shock was rooted in the fact that the headline actually affirmed my beliefs — which doesn’t happen very often these days when I’m reading elite media. Here is that headline, atop an essay by Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review:

Democrats Overplay Their Hand on Abortion

In New York and Virginia, state governments are working to loosen restrictions on late-term abortion—and giving the anti-abortion movement an opportunity.

Here are two key chunks of this piece, which includes all kinds of angles worthy of additional research. Journalists would have zero problems finding voices on left and right to debate this thesis. And there’s more to this piece than, well, Donald Trump.

So part one:

Given the Democratic Party’s view of abortion rights, the legislation in both New York and Virginia expanding abortion access well into viability — all the way through the end of the third trimester — is best understood as a reaction to its palpable fear that President Donald Trump will reshape the courts to oppose modern abortion jurisprudence. At present, the Supreme Court’s decisions allow judges across the country to block abortion restrictions using nebulous standards, such as whether they impose a “substantial burden” on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. These Democratic bills are an effort to shore up that existing framework and ensure that abortion rights remain available even late in pregnancy, no matter what happens to the makeup of federal courts.

That leads to this:

Democratic leaders are overplaying their hand and exposing the harsh reality of their platform. Their promotion of abortion rights after viability doesn’t line up with widely accepted medical evidence or public opinion. Research from the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute contradicts the claims that abortions after 20 weeks are most often necessary in heart-wrenching medical emergencies. One study summarized the available data as suggesting that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

Then this:

It is unsurprising that abortions this late in pregnancy are vastly unpopular with the American public. Gallup polling from 2018 found that only 13 percent of Americans favor making third-trimester abortions “generally” legal, and only 18 percent of Democrats shared that position. Women reject late-term abortion at an even higher rate than men. A Marist survey from earlier this year found that 75 percent of Americans would limit abortion to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy, and majorities of Democrats and those who describe themselves as pro-choice agreed.

That leads me to a second Atlantic think piece that is must reading this weekend, for readers who didn’t see it earlier. It’s no surprise that the author is Emma Green, the religion-beat specialist.

This is a pretty newsy piece, but it also contains a piece of analysis that links it directly to the DeSanctis piece mentioned earlier. The headline of the Green piece states:

Trump Sees an Opening With Voters on Late-Term Abortion

The president lamented bills that would allow “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth” in his State of the Union address.

The key, in this case, is that this issue is very important to RELUCTANT Trump voters — especially moral, cultural and religious conservatives who backed other candidates in the crowded GOP primaries before the 2016 election.

Thus, note the following in Green’s piece:

“Republicans have a golden opportunity to make this a golden issue,” said Charlie Camosy, an associate professor at Fordham University who studies the ethics of abortion.

Trump’s focus on late-term abortions is strategic: It’s one of the most fraught areas of abortion policy, and public opinion about the procedure is mixed. While roughly two-thirds of Americans said in a Gallup poll this summer that they oppose overturning the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which established basic abortion rights, public opinion varies on abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy, depending on the reason for the procedure. Roughly 1 percent of abortions take place after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet these kinds of procedures have dominated recent policy fights at the state and federal level.

Following up on that theme, here is some key material at the very end of the piece, quoting Melissa Murray, a law professor at NYU. 

… Trump’s State of the Union showed that he has an opportunity on abortion as well. “It is red meat to [his] base,” Murray said. Some in the anti-abortion movement have been skeptical of Trump and his policies…. In a political environment where late-term abortions are up for debate, abortion is a winning issue for this president. Whether they’re fans of Trump or not, Murray said, for pro-life voters, “this is something he can talk about that they can get on board with.”

So what’s the story here? Yes, in part we are talking about Trump’s base in the primaries. But this is an issue that also cross over into the world of #NeverTrump #NeverHillary thinkers, as seen by the high-profile efforts of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) — a fierce Trump critic — this past week.

This is also an issue that pokes at divisions among Democrats, especially in black churches and among Latino Catholics. How many blue-collar Catholic workers support what Sasse called “fourth-trimester abortion”? I bet White House insiders know the data on all of that.

Read both of these pieces and focus on the themes that overlap between the two.

Then think ahead.

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