In 2021, we are awash in specific subjects that have become inflammable political issues that 5 years ago were unknown, e.g. replacement theory, vaccinations, critical race theory, mask wearing etc. However, very quickly, they have become so divisive that school boards, public health officers, town councils, mayors and their families are receiving death threats, general vituperation and threatened loss of positions. However, there is one that has been around for more than 40 years: abortion
Prior to Richard Nixon’s 1972 election campaign, approximately the same number of Republicans and Democrats opposed or supported abortion rights. At the time, it was considered a personal moral, religious choice. However, Nixon made an anti-abortion position part of his reelection strategy in order to appeal to Catholic voters and other social conservatives.
Republican Congressional candidates adopted it as well and eventually coalitions formed over the issue between Republicans and evangelical Christian groups and others. Eventually, this campaign tactic morphed into a Party emblem: Pro-Family
However, in the 1960s and earlier, the Party’s candidates were not caught up in abortion as a keystone of their politics and were unpredictable, but that changed..Ronald Reagan, when Governor of California, signed a law (1967) that loosened abortion restrictions, but during his run for the presidency in 1980, he strongly supported the appointment of anti-abortion judges..
Probably inevitable, but in order to distinguish themselves from the GOP, the Democratic Party staked out a position in favor of a woman’s right to decide what happens in her body, i.e. Pro-Choice.
And then years later, abortion became a national cause and mass movements in America championed, lobbied and organized regular public demonstrations on both sides of the issue.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, abortion tactics began to change. Opponents initially favored incremental restrictions, for instance a ban on partial birth abortion. Bill Clinton stretched to the middle when he said: “Abortions should be safe, legal and rare”.
Now, the demands have expanded; the Republicans today are pursuing “heart beat” laws, earlier in a pregnancy. Texas recently passed legislation prohibiting abortions after the 6th week and deputizing the public to enforce it. Others among the 23 Republican controlled states are following the Lone Star’s lead. The Democrats are pursuing reproductive justice for women.
Both parties have the same target: the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision (7-2) in Roe v. Wade. The case struck down a Texas abortion law as unconstitutional and found that American women have a fundamental right to choose whether to have an abortion or not without excessive government.
In 2021, the Republicans want the current Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, while the Democrats want the Constitutional right to be reconfirmed.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization:.
This Mississippi case has reached a very different Supreme Court in November 2021 than the one that decided Roe v. Wade almost 50 years ago. Today SCOTUS has a 6-3 conservative majority. Republicans believe they have a real chance of obliterating Roe and Democrats are concerned.
However, in a 2019 national poll, 75% of Americans supported the constitutional right of women to have an abortion, BUT possibly a version of Roe in a 21st Century context, i.e. some restrictions may be OK. However, the red line between acceptable and unacceptable has yet to be decided. Will today’s Court do that, assuming Roe is not overturned?
Tom Timberman is an Army vet, lawyer, former senior Foreign Service officer, adjunct professor at GWU, and economic development team leader or foreign government advisor in war zones. He is the author of four books, lectures locally and at US and European universities. He and his wife are 24 year residents of Kent County.