Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton was asked whether Americans should work together to drop the number of abortions to zero. Clinton responded she wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare, and by rare I mean rare,” describing abortion as a wrenching choice for “a young woman, her family, her physician, and pastor.”
Today, abortion advocates are shedding the euphemistic pro-choice label to declare themselves out and proud about abortion.
In 2015, the #ShoutYourAbortion Twitter campaign says that women should keep their abortions anything but private and that the choice is nothing but theirs. Opposition to abortion means doing violence to women’s health and economic well-being. Anti-abortion is now anti-life.
As Rebecca Traister points out in New York Magazine, “After decades of treating abortion as a third rail to be gingerly sidestepped, with downcast eyes and sighing exhortations about tragic rarity, at least some on the long-ambivalent left have decided that fighting for better access to abortion is an issue on which they can actually win.”
While the recent shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado feeds the Democratic narrative, it is by no means the starting point. Hillary Clinton, for example, actually went out of her way to bring up Planned Parenthood in the CNN Debate when the moderators did not. She used this once “third rail” topic as a battering ram to go on the offensive against Republicans. Traister also calls attention to Clinton’s constant mention of reproductive rights and use of the word “abortion” to support her position instead of the “soft-lit language of choice.”
Instead of hiding from “abortion,” Democrats are now trying to rebrand the word by turning it into a necessary means to a good end. This tactic can be seen most clearly in the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign.
According to Amelia Bonow and Lindy West, the original creators of the hashtag, the goal was to reframe the debate on the subject of abortion. “One of the final hurdles is getting it into people’s heads that the reason for an abortion doesn’t matter,” said Ms. West. “Women own their own bodies, and you just can’t force someone to bring a baby into the world.”
The campaign was a response not only to Republicans, but even those Democrats who still adhere to the Clinton-era refrain that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” A better goal, says Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, would be “safe, legal and where we live.” Not less abortion, Democrats now say, but more.
Senate candidates Tammy Duckworth and Donna Edwards have added their abortion stories to this mix. Jess McIntosh of EMILY’s List, a PAC that supports specifically pro-choice Democrats running for office, says that having more women candidates who talk about their experiences with abortion, Planned Parenthood, or family planning in general “has done a tremendous amount to center reproductive rights as an economic issue.”
Talking points surrounding the Planned Parenthood funding debates also focused on the need for the women’s “health care” that Planned Parenthood provides. Drawing from this argument, Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has introduced the EACH Woman Act, which stands for Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance. The act would challenge the Hyde Amendment and mandate insurance coverage for abortion services since “abortion care is a part of women’s health care.” Calling for the dissolution of the House committee investigating Planned Parenthood, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said we must stop “the demonizing and witch hunts against Planned Parenthood, its staff and patients, and the lifesaving health care it provides.”
Traister also observes that, “the fact that there are now politicians who have described on the House floor their own abortions suggests some confidence that either the country has shifted on abortion or that we’ve never been as anti-abortion as was largely assumed.”
Here lies the greatest flaw in the Democratic scheme. Framing abortion as “lifesaving” only works if Americans really believe there is only one life involved in the decision.
Following the attack on a pregnant woman in Colorado earlier this year which left the woman severely injured and the unborn baby dead, YouGov ran a national poll asking Americans whether they think fetuses in the womb are people. The results showed that the vast majority of Americans (66 percent) do think a fetus in the womb is a person, and only 16 percent do not think fetuses are people. Moreover, 76 percent of Americans think that if a fetus killed in an attack on a pregnant woman, the attacker should be charged with murder.
If Republicans can continue to personalize the unborn child, to remind Americans that there is another life to be factored into the situation, another person needing health care and economic opportunity, and another person deserving of freedom, then the Democrats’ new narrative will seem even more grotesque. Need for health care? Abortion is the answer. Equal opportunity for women? Abortion. Income inequality? Abortion.
Republicans could take a page from the Democrat play book and emphasize their own answers to these questions within the context of the abortion debate. They did this well during the Planned Parenthood hearings by emphasizing that defunding Planned Parenthood does not mean defunding women’s reproductive care, it just means redirecting the money to pregnancy centers that do not do abortions.
Clinton and the Democratic Party have swapped their “safe-legal-rare” abortion shield for a pink Planned Parenthood flag and are coming out swinging. 2016 will be a chance for Republican pro-life politicians to demonstrated that the left’s new strategy is political, as well as moral, overkill.
Anna Pfaff works for the American Principles Project.