For many years, people inside the Washington D.C. beltway have called Social Security the third-rail of American politics. For progressives, I sometimes think the same hands-off status can be assigned to saying anything against a pro-choice group, lest one appear unsupportive of one of the central tenets of being a liberal. But, as NARAL Pro-Choice America once again decides to endorse Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and might-as-well-be-Republican Joe Lieberman, it's past time to start questioning the wisdom behind their myopic logic.
For some reason, it seems to be an almost universal policy of abortion-rights groups to endorse all pro-choice incumbents, regardless of party affiliation and with no regard whatsoever to whatever other unfortunate baggage those politicians bring with them -- even if that baggage includes stances and votes that directly trash the mission of the very groups promoting them.
By what insane rationale do pro-choice organizations like NARAL – and, in my own New York backyard, the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion (WCLA) -- believe that promoting a Republican majority in any legislative body is good for the abortion rights movement in the long term?
In endorsing even a moderate Republican like Chafee, NARAL is making a decision to also promote the broader agenda of George W. Bush and to galvanize the growing influence of the Religious Right on our national dialog. With the showdown over Republican efforts to eliminate the Senate filibuster in 2005 and the very real possibility of yet another Supreme Court justice appointed by the Bush-Cheney team, it is difficult to remember when the danger of this kind of support has been brought into such specific relief.
In addition to Republicans holding control over the executive and legislative branches of government, they have now almost completed a takeover of the judicial branch – which is the single biggest threat to Roe v. Wade and, presumably, everything organizations like NARAL are fighting for.
So, what in the world can NARAL be thinking? I understand that organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood are single-issue groups, whose charters compel them to accomplish their pro-choice mission by all means necessary. This includes endorsing whomever can have the most sway on behalf of their cause.
But does their oversimplified endorsement policy really even help them?
Do they think that no deeper reflection is necessary before advocating that these people remain in power simply because people like Chafee and Lieberman have resumes that say they will defend a woman's right to control her own body?
Both Chafee and Lieberman voted for cloture on Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court earlier this year, putting him up for a vote that was sure to confirm him and neutering the only method by which the minority party can keep a right-wing zealot from reaching the High Court. NARAL has also endorsed Maria Cantwell (D-WA) this year, despite the fact that Cantwell also voted for cloture and thus allowed Alito to move on in the process.
Maybe that was all just fine with NARAL -- or maybe not, if you look at words from them that directly contradict their deeds.
"How much more convincing do folks need that Alito is dangerous for women?" said the NARAL, Bush v. Choice blog when commenting on Alito's nomination.
In a December 14, 2005 press release announcing a report on "Alito and women’s reproductive freedom," NARAL said that their "organization's analysis of the nominee's record demonstrates that, if Alito is confirmed to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court, he will have ample opportunity to dismantle or even overturn Roe v. Wade."
"Alito, who has been called 'a favorite son of the political right,' would likely vote to eviscerate or eliminate the protections of Roe as a member of the Supreme Court," said NARAL in a piece called 'Alito's anti-choice record' and NARAL President Nancy Keenan said, “Samuel Alito has tried to ensure that without explicitly overturning Roe, Roe is no longer understood to be a guarantee of reproductive freedom and justice. The nomination of Alito tests whether Roe will be a mantelpiece memory, or a meaningful part of our Constitution. Americans know that Alito’s legal philosophy would result in an America in which ‘the constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.’”
So under those circumstances, the endorsement of two candidates who helped get that same Samuel Alito on the Court is akin to Mothers Against Drunk Driving cosponsoring events with the Jack Daniel's distillery.
The same situation exists with how the abortion-rights groups felt about the nomination of John Roberts Jr. to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In a September, 2005 press release, NARAL opposed Roberts saying that "President Bush's nomination of John Roberts to succeed William Rehnquist as the Chief Justice of the United States raises the stakes for the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy."
"We are clearly disappointed that the Senate has confirmed John Roberts for a lifetime position on the Supreme Court, even though he repeatedly refused to answer fair and direct questions, including whether the right to privacy extends to a woman's right to choose," said Keenan after Roberts was confirmed. "Pro-choice Americans applaud those senators who courageously opposed this nomination."
But Senators opposing Roberts would not include Chafee and Lieberman, both of whom voted for Roberts' confirmation -- and this earns them NARAL's repeated endorsement for reelection?
Oh, and by the way, this is the same Joe Lieberman who supports the stance of some Catholic hospitals on not issuing contraceptives to rape victims -- in which case, Holy Joe reasons that hospitals should be able to refuse such contraceptives for sex-crime victims based on "principled reasons."
"In Connecticut, it shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital," Lieberman said.
Now there's a guy committed to women's rights.
What's especially maddening is that these groups have other options, such as Lieberman's challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut, who has made it clear that he will stand for women's rights in every facet of his political life and not just kinda, sorta most of the time. Chafee's likely Democratic opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse, is also pro-choice but NARAL didn't even wait for the Rhode Island primary before endorsing Chafee.
But, I guess any incumbent who claims to be pro-choice gets the nod from these groups under the rationale that they can get more bang for their buck by supporting those who have already established a power base. This is a textbook case of focusing on the battle while not caring about the war.
No matter what non-partisan position abortion-rights groups stake out, the reality is that almost all of their contributor base consists of liberals and, like it or not, they themselves exist primarily in a Democratic social and political universe. In other words, we are their people, not the Republicans.
As our country becomes further polarized and as election-year battles rage on in 2006 and 2008, NARAL will be held responsible for supporting Republicans by many of us who have been contributors. It's an ugly feeling for progressives to know that money we donate to NARAL may directly or indirectly find its way into conservative pockets. I know I'm not sending them anything else.
Of course, NARAL has the right to support whomever they choose. But that doesn't mean we Democrats have to respect them for it. Perhaps NARAL's officers can feel good knowing that they are preserving their daughters' domain over their own bodies, while ignoring that every time they endorse a Republican they are contributing to higher deficits, an unjust war, an abused environment, a debased Constitution and everything else the Bush administration stands for.
And, as the actions of those receiving their endorsements show, their own narrow objectives may not even be achieved in a meaningful, long-term way.
NARAL may also want to take a look at what has already begun happening to the WCLA in Westchester County, NY. The WCLA supported Republican Nick Spano in his narrow, 18-vote victory over Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a State Senate race in 2004, much to the chagrin of many Westchester Democrats. The WCLA will almost certainly support Spano again this year and, if Stewart-Cousins defeats him in 2006, you will be able to fit the already-diminished political influence of the WCLA in a thimble.
While we may be able to remain causal fiends with our pro-choice brothers and sisters who sometimes support Republicans (or people like Lieberman), they shouldn't count on being invited to the same parties where they were formerly welcome.
So I say to NARAL, Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups: We progressives will always hang with you on the choice issue. But it would be nice if you would support some of the other things we care about as well.
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