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The Vanishing Anti-Choice Democrat: Rethinking the Party's Strategy

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At the same time, the Democratic and Republican parties were shaped by the mainstream media to be, well, the feminine and masculine parties.  Because of inherent sexism in our society, Republicans were extremely happy with this.  Democrats have to walk a tighter line, trying to find ways not to be the "girlie party" that sets off misogynist alarm bells in the voters, but also trying to woo the growing numbers of female voters that have very specific feminist desires to see pay equity, better health care, and more social support.

Abortion and reproductive rights overall have become the stand-in issue for a whole host of culture-war struggles over a woman’s role in society.  Thirty years ago, I doubt you could say with much certainty that you could predict a person’s opinion on pay equity, federally subsidized day care, gay rights, health care reform, or even environmentalism from their opinion of abortion.  But nowadays, you can predict it with startling accuracy.  Supporting abortion rights is lumped together with all these other stances that are viewed as not just feminist, but feminine.  And where you fall in that milieu has less to do with your sex or gender identity, and more to do with what constellation of beliefs you find more compelling.

George Lakoff placed abortion into the constellation of “liberal” and “conservative” views in his book Moral Politics. In this book, he proposes that conservatives are hierarchy-oriented and liberals are egalitarian and nurturing.  From that perspective, the polarization about abortion makes complete sense.  Opponents to abortion see abortion as an escape hatch that allows women to behave sexually in ways that don’t fit into the strict moral framework they’ve created.  Liberals see sexuality as a matter of expression and individual taste, and see abortion rights as a public health issue, and an issue of rights, the exercise of which enables women to make choices in building the lives they choose to have.  Many Americans swing between these two extremes, depending on the situation.  But as time moves on and the debate over the issue becomes calcified, we’re going to see more, not less of this partisan polarization on the issue.

One thing is certain: As abortion becomes more polarized as an issue, the group of people who might be liberal on some issues, but are conservative on abortion, grows tinier by the day.  And investments by the Democratic Party to recruit that vanishing population would be far better spent elsewhere.