Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Senator Clinton's Roe v. Wade speech

Hillary Clinton said some really sensible things yesterday, quoted in today's New York Times. She talked about finding common ground between liberals who favor the legality of abortion and conservatives who don't. And she's 100% right -- there are some things that all reasonable parties to the debate should agree on:
She called on abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion campaigners to form a broad alliance to support sexual education - including abstinence counseling - family planning, and morning-after emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault as ways to reduce unintended pregnancies. "We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," Mrs. Clinton told the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State. "The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place."
This is the sort of obvious common ground that I've been losing faith in politicians to identify. It's recognizing the common decency in political opponents that can lead to actual positive change in the world. But impressively, the Senator faces an uphill battle even though everyone agrees with her, because now on believes she agrees with them. Americans, see, don't like compromise. And that's what they think they're seeing here. Ah, Senator Clinton says something that sort of has to do with abortion, which Christian groups agree with. She's caving to political pressure! She's being criticized on both sides. Here's the Right:
"I think she's trying to adopt a values-oriented language, but it lacks substance, at least if you compare it to her record," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington. "If you look at Senator Clinton's voting record on this issue, it's like Planned Parenthood's condoms - it's defective."
And here's the Left:
"I understood what Senator Clinton meant when she said abortion could be a sad and tragic choice, but we see women express relief more than anything else that they have the freedom to choose," said Martha Stahl, director for public relations and marketing for Northern Adirondack Planned Parenthood. "Mrs. Clinton really seemed to be reaching out here."
Both criticisms miss the point; Ms. Stahl, she's not saying anything about limiting abortion rights. Mr. Perkins, she's not claiming to be pro-life. That's *not* a common-ground. She's talking about something else -- something that *is* a common ground. If you think that it's bad when young women end up in unwanted pregnancies, then that's one issue you agree with the Senator on. And maybe if you'll open your eyes, you'll see it's an issue you agree with the people on the other side of the aisle on.


  1. Abortion is one of those subjects where people who have any opinion at all tend to feel so strongly about it that any conciliatory language feels threatening to them. If you believe abortion is the mass-marketed murder of tiny helpless babies, then if anyone says anything remotely conciliatory about it, you panic. If you believe anti-abortion laws are the first step towards fascist governmental control of women's rights to their own bodies, then if anyone says anything remotely conciliatory about them, you panic. And once you panic, it's all over for rational discourse.

    Ms. Clinton may be cynically trying to have it both ways (much like Kerry on the Iraq war), but her position is exactly right: focus on eradicating the circumstances that cause women to seek abortion, and everybody wins.


  2. Savannah, I think that's largely right, but I don't think this even counts as being concilliatory about abortion. It's more like she's saying, "yeah, we disagree on abortion, but here's this other really important thing we agree on."

    She recognizes that she's still at odds with pro-life groups. She's just pointing to *one respect* in which they shouldn't be at odds.

    You're quite right about the panicking, of course -- we just need to recognize that people will panick at anything that even REMOTELY SOUNDS LIKE it might be concilliatory, not only at things that are.

  3. Like Jonathan, I don't think Clinton's words are best seen as concilliatory in the ever-heated debate on abortion rights. I think that she is doing something that may seem as though it were sacrificing some of her Party's prime moral tenets, but only as a result of the stark binary polarization of the federal democratic process that we have seen in recent years. It has become an alien - and instinctively distasteful - practice to reach out in the form of non-partisan teamwork. Sen. Clinton knows that the underlying issues of morallity involved in the issue of abortion will not be cleared up or swayed by any prowess of rhetoric or political charm. She is trying to get the debate focus to an issue that can be agreed upon, and thus acted upon.