Rich Lowry: Abortion controversy won’t save the Democrats

Democrats are out of step with the political mainstream on the hot-button issue

(Shuran Huang | The New York Times) Anti-abortion demonstrators celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court on Friday overruled Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion after almost 50 years.

Democrats have been looking for a political lifeline and believe that the Dobbs case overturning Roe v. Wade is it.

The problem is that their radicalism makes them out of step on this issue, as they are on so many others.

A party that exists in its own echo chamber and that is more and more reliant on the votes of a highly educated, socially progressive portion of the electorate simply can’t process the idea that the rest of the country may be in a different place. Instead, it is consumed by its own obsessions.

The Democrats held congressional hearings on abortion and perhaps the most memorable moments were the witnesses holding forth on how men can supposedly get pregnant and exhibiting hesitance to condemn infanticide.

There’s a perception in the popular mind that overturning Roe is tantamount to banning abortion everywhere, and it’s simply not true. Dobbs doesn’t impose a uniform national rule. Rather, it allows the states to adopt different laws as determined by their electorates representing the country’s diverse political and moral geography.

The widespread misunderstanding about Roe creates confused and contradictory public sentiment. A recent Harvard/Harris Poll survey found a solid majority, 55%, opposed overturning Roe. On the other hand, a larger majority favored restrictions of the sort that the Roe-enforced abortion regime made impossible.

According to the poll, 37% want to permit abortion only in cases of rape and incest, 12% to permit it only before six weeks, and 23% after 15 weeks. That makes for a total of 72% of voters supporting a policy that couldn’t be written into law for the last 50 years under Roe.

Also, given the option, a plurality (44%) believe that abortion policy should be set at the state level, the arrangement that Roe didn’t allow and that Dobbs blesses.

Most of the public isn’t on board with the more sweeping progressive critiques that have been made of the Supreme Court in the wake of the decision. Again, according to the Harvard/Harris, 63% believe that the Supreme Court is legitimate and 59% say it’s wrong for Democrats to say otherwise.

The party can’t resist overreaching. It’d be one thing if it embraced the basic Western European approach of only permitting abortion the first 12 weeks. This would mean most abortions would still be legal, while the party could occupy the political middle ground and try to isolate pro-lifers favoring total bans.

Such a tack is unthinkable, though. Instead, Democrats want a federal codification of Roe that would once again wipe away any state discretion, and indeed go even further.

As my National Review colleague John McCormack notes, the Democratic bill creates a right to abortion before “fetal viability,” or the threshold when the fetus is likely to survive outside the womb. It also forbids states from prohibiting post-viability abortions if a “health care provider” believes that continuing the pregnancy would risk the mother’s “health,” a term that includes physical and mental health and is supposed to be interpreted “liberally.”

This would effectively ensure a right to abortion through nine months, a position that has the support of 10% of the public, according to the Harvard/Harris poll. Moreover, the bill would cut down a swath of relatively minor, popular restrictions on abortion, including parental consent laws and 24-hour waiting periods.

If this legislation were ever to become the true focus of the post-Roe debate, there’s no way that Democrats would win it. It shows the same judgment and discernment that had elements of the party talking about defunding the police or abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In sum, Dobbs isn’t a magic bullet for Democrats. Instead, it’s an invitation to open debate and deliberation over abortion policy that may hold opportunities for the party, but also has pitfalls that it is completely oblivious to or determined to ignore — per usual.

Rich Lowry Courtesy photo

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Twitter, @RichLowry