Home National Politics Why the Republicans Love the Abortion Issue

Why the Republicans Love the Abortion Issue

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This piece ran in two Virginia newspapers this past week.

How many Americans fit this profile?

1) They are inclined to view politics in moral terms, and it is important to them to be one of the good people and not one of the bad people.

2) Their understanding of the workings of the larger systems in their world – e.g. the US government, and the American and world economies – is limited.

3) Having neither the time, interest, nor background to develop a complex picture of American politics, they welcome a simple way to exercise their duties as citizens. Finding a single issue that can define their political choices serves this purpose.

Millions, I would guess.

To lock in the support of such people, the issue of abortion is perfect.

Protecting the defenseless unborn can easily be cast as a high moral purpose. The issue arises on the human scale, no complex systems involved. It concerns family relationships, and also involves the consequences of sexual behavior, on which cultural traditions have had much to say.  

The abortion issue creates the opportunity for a savvy political force to capture and hold those millions of single-issue voters. The Republican Party has seized that opportunity for decades, convincing those millions that they are the moral party and their opponents are immoral.

While Americans as a whole are not comfortable about abortion, it is only a minority who think it should be illegal in all circumstances.  The Democratic Party has inevitably settled into representing the feelings of the American majority that does not want abortion banned outright.

Although the position the Democrats take on abortion -“safe, legal, and rare” — reflects the majority opinion in America, very few in that majority vote on that single issue. But, by targeting voters who meet the above profile, the Republican Party has been able over the decades to cultivate an important block of single-issue anti-abortion voting.

That’s why the abortion issue has been a gold-mine for the Republicans. That’s why as soon as the Republicans captured state governments in the 2010 elections, even though the nation was still in a deep economic recession, and the people were clamoring for programs to create jobs, in state after state the Republicans diverted attention away from the urgent economic issues and re-kindled the political battles over abortion.

The Republicans have encouraged those single-issue millions to see abortion as defining political morality — a pure case of good vs. evil, with no moral ambiguities. With the Democrats locked into a non-absolutist position – regrettable but not prohibited – the idea can be established in people’s minds, as I have heard on the campaign trail, that “one cannot be both a Christian and a Democrat.”

But what makes this single-issue voting block a gold mine for Republicans also makes it a danger to the country.

When a political party can get millions of voters, who care about moral values, locked into seeing it as the defender of morality, it frees itself to engage in immoral conduct of all sorts without fear of losing those voters’ support. And that is what has happened.

In America today, a great many immoral and unjust acts that have nothing to do with abortion are being carried out in our political arena – the preponderance of them by the same political force that has gained the permanent support of one-issue anti-abortion voters.

Abortion has the special appeal for today’s Republican Party, that it is wholly disconnected from the quest for money and power that are the Party’s real purposes.

Those millions of single-issue pro-life voters are satisfied that they are supporting morality even though they vote for a political party that has been relentlessly transferring wealth and power from average Americans to the richest and mightiest few. With its right hand pointing to abortion, the Republican Party distracts attention from the large-scale acts of immorality being carried out by its left hand.

In the Bible, while relatively little is said about the status of the unborn, the passages are many in which the prophets call for protecting  “widows and orphans” and for giving justice to the weak.

In a nation where the task of aligning power with the good and against the evil is far from simple, the simplification of the tasks of citizenship into a single test can play directly into the hands of the kind of evil power the prophets railed against.

  • campaignman

    I agree with this and that is why I think it is time we Democrats also talked in terms of morality.

    We need to trump the Republicans by listing the moral positions we are taking, starting with abortion, which we know how to discuss.

    We must start by saying that government should not be involved American’s personal bedroom and medical decisions.

    Democrats must stand against the immorality of forcing desperate women to risk death and ruining their chances to ever have another child via backroom abortions, which they will attempt if they have no choice.

    Democrats must also stand against the immorality of putting women and doctors in prison for choosing an abortion, which is the logical outgrowth of the Republican position.

    Arguing that abortion is legal and that women have a constitutional right to it under certain circumstances, avoids the moral issue.  While liberals like it, it does not resonate with independents and conservatives.

    Once we address that issue forthrightly, then Democrats can stand against the immorality of not making sure that every American child has a chance to be successful in life.

    Beyond that, we Democrats need to stand against the immorality of greed allowing capitalism to run amok without proper protections for consumers.

    Then, we Democrats need to stand against the immorality of people who hold the public trust in legislative, police and other positions violating that trust.

    If we reposition our mission as a moral mission, we can win every political office in this nation.

  • loudoun independent

    In 2013 I received over two dozen mail pieces about abortion. Every single one of them was from Democrats.

    The campaigns of John Foust and Mark Udall show that it is the Democrats who might be considered to be running single-issue campaigns. Udall even got called out for it by the Denver Post.

  • ir003436

    Whenever I’m in a discussion with Republicans or Tea Baggers or other rightwingnutjobs, the conversation usually turns to abortion.  Here’s my comment.

    I’m a man and will never undergo an abortion.  As far as I know, no one in my family has undergone an abortion; if they have, they haven’t told me.

    I am certain the decision to have an abortion is the most heart-wrenching decision a woman — and anyone she consults — will ever make.  For this reason, I will NOT add to her burden by outlawing abortion, thereby making her a criminal.  

    How can you claim to be a caring, “Christian” person when all you are doing is making a woman a criminal for making a difficult decision?

    Shuts ’em up every time.