As part of my continuing effort to identify the less obvious implications of Dobbs, I considered at New York the change in perceptions of Republicans supporting abortion bans might soon experience:
Until June 24, you heard occasional talk of former vice-president Mike Pence being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by Joe Biden for his courage in rejecting Donald Trump’s pleas and demands that he overturn the 2020 election results on January 6, 2021. Obviously, the hearings of the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6 reinforced a sense of gratitude toward Trump’s once-sycophantic veep, and the committee itself treated the Pence staffers who testified almost reverently.
Then the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, abolishing a federal constitutional right to abortion, and even before the words of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion stopped echoing, Pence was telling Breitbart News how thrilled he was that women had lost the right to choose:
“Today, Life Won. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States has given the American people a new beginning for life, and I commend the justices in the majority for having the courage of their convictions,” Pence said in response to the 5-4 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.”
Pence treated this as just the starting point for the forced-birth cause:
“’Having been given this second chance for Life, we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.’”
And the former vice-president also wanted to make sure Breitbart readers didn’t view him as a Johnny-come-lately to the anti-abortion cause:
“Pence also released a video through his organization Advancing American Freedom, which he also provided to Breitbart News exclusively ahead of its public release. In the slightly-over-three-minutes-long video, a narrator shows Pence’s history fighting for life beginning long before he was even elected to Congress. It then details how Pence offered the first-ever bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Congress—and then later as Vice President of the United States cast the tie-breaking vote to make sure a plan that gave that right to states passed Congress.”
Does that take the shine off his January 6 heroism? Maybe just a little?
Now Pence was famously the very favorite politician of the Christian Right before he stumbled over anti-LGBTQ measures in Indiana and was then lifted into the highest levels of national politics by Trump in 2016. But consider another Republican who has gained a fanbase among liberals and the center left: House Select Committee vice-chair Liz Cheney. Last year, after she defied Trump over his election lies, she soon became more popular among Democrats than Republicans. And even before the January 6 hearings that have won her further admiration from Dems, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was encouraging Joe Biden to consider dumping Kamala Harris and running for reelection on a ticket with Cheney or someone like her. But in light of the thunderbolt that has struck American politics in the form of Dobbs, it is probably relevant that in the current Congress, Liz Cheney is a co-sponsor of legislation (HR 1011) endorsing an idea that even the conservative bloc on SCOTUS hasn’t endorsed: fetal personhood.
“Life at Conception Act
“This bill declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual comes into being.”
No, don’t think she’s going to be on any Democratic presidential ticket soon.
My point is not to minimize the good things some Republicans have done in some areas of public life. Standing up to Donald Trump is indeed important to the future of democracy, and for that matter, it’s important to the deeply endangered future of reproductive rights, since Trump is the president who produced Dobbs as part of a cynical deal he made with conservative Christians obsessed with outlawing abortion. But at the same time,
Dobbs should remind everyone there are nonnegotiable subjects in politics other than the events of January 6, and sadly, Republican officeholders are even more united in being wrong on abortion policy than they are in defending and revering the 45th president. It’s a matter of perspective and of priorities.
One realization in particular that must now come to the fore post-Dobbs involves the bad media habit of treating some Republicans as “moderate” on abortion policy because they are willing to show some compassion (or maybe just shame) on behalf the very small percentage of people needing abortion services because they are the victims of rape or incest. Now that it’s clear they have no problem with banning the other 98 percent of previously legal abortions, these “moderates” look like the anti-abortion zealots they’ve always really been.
You may object that in a dangerously polarized political environment, but the last thing we need is to shine a spotlight on one of those issues where D’s and R’s (at least among those holding or running for office) are on different planets. We should instead, I suppose, focus on celebrating every symbolic moment where even a shred of bipartisanship can be found, whether it’s a big infrastructure bill, a small tweak in federal gun policies, or the willingness of a few Republicans to own up to Trump’s crimes. But it’s far past time to understand that polarization is not always some sort of artificial phenomenon foisted on an a peace-loving electorate by politicians and other “elites.” It’s sometimes the product of deep differences of opinion on matters that affect the lives of real people. That’s definitely true of abortion policy. And now that lawmakers are in the position to respect or oppress the reproductive autonomy of women in ways that have consequences, it’s actively offensive to shrug and look the other way.