The Case for Pro-Choice Republicans.

I want to quickly highlight this chunk from James Wagoner's great post on the Stupak Amendment at RH Reality Check:

I believe pro-choice leaders may have made a fatal mistake in not challenging the Democrats’ 2004 decision to recruit and run anti-choice candidates. They believed Democratic leadership when they were told that the pro-choice agenda would not be undermined by these newly elected anti-choice Democrats because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate would “have their backs” on policy issues.

Well, so much for political assurances. Pro-choice leaders must now recognize that they have fallen victim to a classic “bait and switch” with Democrats telling pro-choice advocates they couldn’t save them from Stupak because they just didn’t have the votes. Gee, wonder why? Couldn’t have anything to do with all those anti-choice Democrats elected since 2004 could it?

This is a good time to mention political scientist Paul Frymer's 1999 book Uneasy Alliances. Frymer is mostly concerned with the role of race in political coalition building, but his central idea -- that minority groups risk electoral "capture" by closely aligning themselves with a single political party -- is a really useful way of thinking about interest groups in general. Since the Democratic Party is the only major political party committed -- however nominally -- to reproductive rights, pro-choicers have had no other choice but to ally themselves with the party. Democrats can afford to sacrifice pro-choice priorities precisely because pro-choicers have no other choice but to work with the party.

The opposite is true for anti-abortion activists and politicians. Not only are anti-abortion voters an important part of the Republican Party coalition, they are an integral part of the Democratic Party's large majority. As a result, anti-abortion politicians and activists have a huge amount of leverage over Democrats, because they can credibly threaten to withdraw their support for Democratic initiatives. It's actually kind of ironic -- Democrats won in 2006 by expanding the party to include minority viewpoints on reproductive rights, but by expanding the size of the Democratic tent and giving anti-abortion activists the option of leaving the Republican Party, they inadvertently gave them a whole lot more leverage and power than they previously had.

In a lot of ways, the pro-choice movement is in the same predicament as health-care reformers and environmental activists. The optimal approach in each case is really only possible when there are opportunities for cross-partisan coalitions. Pro-choicers need fellow travelers in the Republican Party if they want to make any real headway for reproductive rights. Otherwise, they'll be stuck fighting rear-guard actions against legislation like the Stupak Amendment for the foreseeable future.

--Jamelle Bouie

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