Tom Bogdon
August 24, 2007


The issue of abortion leans heavily on both political parties
by Tom Bogdon

The Republican Party would be just dandy if its rank-and-file members dropped their objections to government-paid abortions and if the party nominated Rudy Giuliani, the most “liberal” of the GOP’s presidential candidates.

At least that’s the take of Barbara Shelly, a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board, in an Aug. 12 op-ed piece headlined, “Behold a Glorious Vision of a Centrist GOP.”

Shelly’s column could very well have been headlined, “Behold a Vision of a Leftist (and losing) Democratic Party.”

Shelly writes that the impending departure from the White House of political strategist Karl Rove and the position of former New York City Mayor Giuliani atop the polls for the GOP presidential nomination makes the Republican Party attractive to her.

“These are developments that give faint hope to a Midwesterner who has watched what happens when the grip of the Republican ‘base’ becomes a vise,” Shelly writes. “It squeezes moderate politicians out of the party and turns state legislative sessions into bizarre exercises in which every bill must be scrubbed of the possibility that it might somehow permit abortion or embryonic stem-cell research.”

Well, that is just the flipside of what occurred in the Missouri General Assembly in those long-ago days when Democrats were in control. One Democratic state lawmaker, a woman, told me several years ago how her Democratic colleagues in the Missouri House shunned her because she was pro-life.

As for embryonic stem cell research, it is a tougher call than abortion because life-saving cures can result, and Missourians narrowly approved it at the polls after a hard-fought campaign. Even Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, endorsed stem-cell research. But the issue may come up again, much to the chagrin of those who envision Missouri as a life sciences research center.

Shelly and The Star characterize their position as simply pro-choice and do not advertise that they really want government-funded abortion on demand. If that is not their position, then they should clarify that point because such organizations as Planned Parenthood, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) and Missouri Progressive Vote (Pro-Vote) state unequivocally that they want “abortion rights” to be an entitlement, paid for by the government like Social Security or Medicare.

Concerning Medicare, there will be a strong effort for more affordable medical care for all following the 2008 elections. Indeed, many of the presidential hopefuls have plans for government-sponsored health care of some description. An inevitable issue will be whether abortion would be considered to be “health care.” That question could fatally complicate the issue of affordable health care for all, which most industrial nations already have.

In an interview years ago when she was campaigning for the U.S. Senate, the late Missouri Lt. Gov. Harriett Woods told me that she thought abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Asked if she favored government funding, Woods said she did favor government funding because, she said, poor women would be unable to afford the procedure. So Woods, as do many pro-choice advocates, favored government funding.

There are alternatives, however. Planned Parenthood, for example, or some private foundation supported by private sources could pay for abortions for those who couldn’t afford the cost. That would ease the concern about tax dollars being used to pay for (and give a stamp of government approval to) a procedure that tens of millions of taxpayers object to on religious, moral or ethical grounds. For the record, there are about 1.3 million abortions performed each year in this country, so it is hardly a “rare” procedure.

There is no doubt that abortion has long been a powerful political issue. A case could be made for the premise that the abortion issue has been deciding national elections ever since Ronald Reagan, on an anti-abortion platform, won the presidency twice in the 1980s. Many blue-collar Democrats voted for Reagan because of that issue.

A case could also be made for the proposition that Bill Clinton, the only Democrat elected to the presidency in nearly three decades, would have lost the 1992 election to George Bush the elder had it not been for the presence in the race of independent candidate H. Ross Perot, who split the Republican vote. The charismatic Clinton also was able to defeat the acerbic, aging Kansan Bob Dole in 1996.

President George W. Bush was outspokenly pro-life as a candidate and has maintained that stance as an officeholder. He rewarded his supporters by appointing two U.S. Supreme Court justices who have drawn the court to the right, and this will arguably be the greatest “legacy” in a lackluster presidency.

The power of the abortion issue in American politics is particularly evident in Missouri. This bellwether state has voted with the winner in every national election since early in the 20th century, with the exception of 1956, when Adlai Stevenson carried the state over President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Both Al Gore and John Kerry lost Missouri to George W. Bush. The trauma of the Florida recount in the 2000 election is hard to forget, but the fact is that Florida would not have mattered if Gore had been able to carry either Missouri or his home state of Tennessee. But Gore, who earlier in his career in Tennessee politics was pro-life, lost both states on the abortion and gun issues.

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a Catholic, drew a huge crowd at Union Station when he and running mate John Edwards and their families stopped in Kansas City on a cross-country campaign tour by train. But the Massachusetts senator later conceded Missouri to Bush even before the election when, largely on the strength of the abortion issue, polls showed he had no chance of carrying the Show-Me State.

It couldn’t have helped that Kerry was refused Holy Communion in some churches because of his pro-abortion politics. And out-state Missouri, home to millions of Protestants, didn’t take to Kerry any more kindly than did urban and suburban Catholics.

Gore or Kerry might have made outstanding presidents. Unfortunately, we will never know, mainly because the abortion issue has been relegated to the role of party dogma for both the Democrats and Republicans. A long-time friend of mine, a printing company executive, remarked recently that apparently we have to choose between a million dead Iraqis and a million dead babies.

Tom Bogdon can be contacted at


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