The Tea Party takeover of congress has hit a rough spot in its efforts to strike a blow for the "right to life" and make new encroachments on women's rights to reproductive health care.
U.S. House Republican leaders abruptly called off a vote on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy following objections by rank-and-file lawmakers in the party, including women.While tactically this is pleasant news for women's rights advocates, it is just a minor skirmish in the unending abortion wars. Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the historic Roe vs Wade SCOTUS decision establishing a constitutional right for women to make independent decisions about pregnancy. We are still nowhere a national consensus on the issue. Depending on how one reads and parses opinion polls, a plausible argument can be made that there has been a gradual drift in the direction of mild support for a pro choice position. However, there is still a hardcore of implacable foes with a red state geographic base. That gives them the leverage to keep passing laws at the state level that chip away at reproductive freedom.
Instead, party leaders plan a House vote Thursday on a separate measure to ban federal funding for abortion.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders have been unable to unify a party that now has control of both the House and Senate. Republicans are split among those who want to take a hard line on social issues and those who want to appeal to centrist voters and women.
The problem as I see it is that a large portion of the public wants to find some kind of middle ground position that would enable them to avoid having to take a firm stand on an issue that makes many people uncomfortable. When you logically analyse the two basic positions there really is not practical functional middle position.
If you believe that human life begins at conception and that any voluntary termination of a pregnancy constitutes murder, then the only logical outcome of that position is a complete ban on abortion. If on the other hand you believe that a fetus in utero is part of the mother's body over which she has the right to exercise control, then any restrictions placed on that right is not really acceptable. Those two positions are fundamentally irreconcilable. The political effort has been to try to define some sort of compromise position. That has focused on an age of viability concept. A fetus which has theoretically reached a level of development that would make it possible to function independently with medical support would somehow be more alive than one which has not.
This is in many ways a moving target. Some pregnancies are never viable and naturally end in miscarriages or still births. Advances in medical technology make the notion of age of viability more indistinct. The legal efforts to draw a magic line at 20 weeks, or 24 weeks, or 29 weeks are almost entirely arbitrary and have no real practical medical importance. It is simply a political football. What would the "pro-life" forces have actually gained in passing a federal law limiting all abortions to 20 weeks? Then there is always the wild card of "legitimate rape" exceptions in the debate. The abortions that do get by the restrictions are still abortions. The people who oppose abortions are still unhappy and will continue to protest.
What such political efforts as this do accomplish is to intimidate women in their independence. It cast their rights as contingent on the approval traditional male dominated authority. It also throws a bone to the frothing mobs of abortion protesters, making them think that their ultimate goal is in sight if just keep sending in the campaign contributions.