Democrats are talking about how Democrats should be talking about abortion. And it’s looking dire. Over the past several years we have watched the erstwhile left-wing party compromise on core values and grow increasingly reluctant to check the current administration’s recklessness. Now that the war on women’s rights has come to a head, it is distressingly clear that there is no party for choice.
On December 8, 2004, Howard Dean cautioned  that Democrats “cannot win by being Republican-lite.” Four days later , though, he expressed what some might consider a contradictory belief “that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats.” Dean was echoing John Kerry’s goal: “to find a way to bring in right-to-life Democrats back into the Democratic Party.” Of course, with the famously anti-choice Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader and 30 percent  of Senate Democrats voting for Rick Santorum’s abortion ban  in 2003, its difficult to grasp how much more anti-choice outreach Kerry and Dean consider necessary. In any case, surely Democrat Julie Bartling, the South Dakota Senate member now notorious for sponsoring that state's abortion ban , is evidence enough that the Democrats are not the party of principled exclusion.
There are other Democratic talking points on abortion. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade this past January, Hillary Clinton gave a speech  in which she took care to stress that abortion, while it must be kept safe and legal, “does not ever have to be exercised.” Her sentiment emblematizes the growing trend  of targeting fence-sitters by underscoring that, supposedly, no one really wants women to have abortions. And, no doubt, there is a demographic to be courted with “safe, legal and [insert penitential adjective here]” slogans. What’s being overlooked, however, is the important and indelible link between rhetoric and substance. And what we no-caveats, no-apologies pro-choicers want is not a party for abortion, but a party of conviction.
Perhaps if the Democratic Party had not lost sight of the very real impact of rhetoric, Republicans might encounter opposition to their use of it in the war on choice. As it stands, Democrats are too busy carving out a middle ground to bother deconstructing anti-choice propaganda.
Recall Santorum’s afore-mentioned abortion ban, which the Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider . The bill, which has been met with endless court challenges since Bush signed it into law in 2003, is colossally publicly misconstrued, thanks to its strategically conceived name (which will not be repeated here ). What could Democrats be telling us to combat the Republican grip on public opinion? The truth would be a good start.
“Intact dilation and extraction” (intact D&X) is the correct medical term for what the ban’s name—and name only—alludes to. Introduced in 1992 by Dr. Martin Haskell, the procedure is the late-term variation on “dilation and evacuation” (D&E). D&E carries risks, such as uterine tearing, after about the 17th week of pregnancy. Despite what the GOP would have you believe, intact D&X is meant to protect the woman’s health . Even so, while D&E is constitutionally protected under Roe , intact D&X is almost exclusively a late-term procedure, and late-term abortions are already banned in 40 states.
But, even if they weren’t, Santorum’s ban, widely believed  to concern late-term abortion, makes no mention of trimesters. Instead, the alarmingly sweeping language of S.1692—which, by the way, allows no exceptions to protect pregnant women’s health—forbids  any abortion in which a physician “partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.” Legislation this broad can be understood to criminalize abortions at any stage of pregnancy—which is the point.
Similar bans have passed in more than 28 states, only to be repeatedly deemed unconstitutional in state courts. But, in 1998, one Federal District Court judge in Wisconsin refused to issue a temporary restraining order against such a bill. When the ban went into effect, abortions stopped . In other words, this goes beyond “slippery slope” concerns and straight to the issue of legality and availability of all abortion in the U.S.
The last time Santorum’s bill was struck down in the Supreme Court, O’Connor was the swing vote. This time, it’s Alito. Make no mistake: this attack aims to cripple women’s rights. And where are the Democrats? They may claim to have preserved their resolve while softening their rhetoric, all in the name of winning the battle. But the truth is they’ve stopped fighting.