The Roe v. Wade problem

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had blocked states from denying abortion rights to women, is no doubt a 50-year setback for women’s rights. No way around it. But besides the problem that millions of women will now face in their personal lives (many of whom will have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term), there is also the immediate political problem. Republicans/conservatives had held a very large advantage going into the 2022 midterm elections. Because about 2/3 of Americans favored keeping Roe v. Wade, there will no doubt be some swing against Republicans in favor of women’s rights. But beware of overconfidence. The Republican advantage has gone from large to small but they are still likely to gain some seats in Congress. And Democrats/liberals are famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The 2016 presidential election is a case in point. The Republican nominee (Trump) was probably the most spectacularly unqualified candidate in U.S. history, both in terms of competence and temperament, and the Dems found a way to lose. And after the election? Did Dems look in the mirror to see how they may have alienated so many voters that they were thrashed by the worst candidate in history? No, they doubled down and wrote off everyone who disagreed with them as racist. Perhaps a harmless strategy if you are preaching to the choir, but hardly a way to win back some of those you have alienated.

So what’s the problem today? Just looking at the electoral side for now, the problem is stopping the Dems from self-destructing. A large majority is on your side on abortion rights. Don’t give away the electoral advantage this gives you. Two pitfalls in particular are easy to avoid, and yet I fear they are exactly the kind of pitfalls Dems generally dive into.

  1. Don’t frame this as women against men. Nothing the right-wingers would like better than to split us along gender lines. If it’s the pro-choice camp (most men and women, most moderates and liberals) against them, they are far outnumbered. (A Pew poll last week found 58% of men and 63% of women think abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.”) It’s really the men and women who are pro-reproductive rights against the men and women who are against reproductive rights. The problem is that right-wingers get a lot of help from progressives on this point – progressives whom I already see on social media framing it as men v. women, drawing a battle line that gives far too much to the other side.
  2. Don’t let this get twisted into the far less popular views associated with progressives these days – a fear of using the word “women” because it may somehow be offensive to some trans activists (activists who are fighting a noble fight, but as with broader justice movements in race and gender, have to deal with factions within that are counterproductive if not downright destructive). Don’t let it be broadened into the amorphous idea that Americans are generally a bunch of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic idiots. Yes, some Americans are like that, and yes, that is a branding of liberals and Dems largely initiated by their opponents, but please don’t help them to do it. “You’re a bunch of racist, sexist idiots who should vote for me” is not a winning electoral slogan. Don’t forget that there are a lot of Americans out there who are fighting the good fight in their small ways, if not on the front lines.

Now I understand that I may get some pushback on #1 and #2 from my younger progressive friends – fair enough, we can haggle out how to hone the ideology and prioritize strategies as we go forward. But if there is pushback, remember that I’m actually on your side. Multiple and diverse points of view is good, not bad, in the same way that genetic diversity moves the species forward. Mainly, though, just be careful how you frame your case. It could be the difference between having 2/3 of the country at your back or having things go as they did in 2016.

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