Last week, Alabama’s new U.S. Sen. Doug Jones voted against a bill called the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”
The legislation, if passed and signed into law, would have banned abortions at 20 weeks. The 20-week threshold marks the point in gestation at which fetuses supposedly can feel pain.
Jones’ loyal Alabama opposition decried his anti-life vote.
“After today’s vote, we now see Sen. Doug Jones’ true colors,” Alabama Republican Party chairwoman Terry Lathan proclaimed after his “no” vote. “We will not forget his vote to block this bill banning late-term abortions. It is disgraceful that Sen. Jones, who claims to want to ‘give voice to the challenges that face so many of our most vulnerable Americans’ would refuse to be a voice for the most vulnerable of them all: innocent lives in the womb.
“As one of the strongest pro-life states in the nation, Alabamians will hold Sen. Jones accountable for this vote and every move he makes in the future regarding legislation that supports life at all stages,” she added.
That’s a fair and appropriate criticism. Doug Jones may very well lose his re-election bid in a few years, but it will not be because of how he voted on abortion.
Right out of the gate, when Republican voters decided Bible-thumping social conservative Roy Moore would be Jones’ opponent, Jones was asked about legislation that might “ban abortion after 20 weeks or something like that,” as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd put it.
“No, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose,” Jones replied. “That’s just the position I’ve had for many years, it’s the position I continue to have.”
The point is Alabama voters knew Jones’ radical position on the abortion issue, and regardless, they elected him to be their senator last December.
Even if Jones bucked his party and voted with the pro-lifers, the abortion issue is essentially settled, with the battle lines largely drawn at the margin of the issue. Further, at a time when Congress struggles to pass a bill to keep the U.S. government from shutting down, are we really thinking there will be any significant change in abortion laws in our lifetimes? Abortion just is not going away, for now.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that abortion was legal. Much like the gun debate, which has an actual constitutional amendment defining gun ownership as a right, the legal standard on abortion is also unlikely to change in the immediate future.
It is not that the American people are coming around to favor abortion as they have with same-sex marriage. Opinion is roughly split when asked if Americans are asked if they consider themselves to be pro-life or pro-choice. That divide has remained consistent over the last two decades, according to Gallup.
Also according to Gallup, the trend over the last five years has been an increase of support of same-sex marriage; according to its most recent survey, Americans favor same-sex marriage by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.
Republicans can and should issue their strongly worded statement condemning Democrats for their unwillingness to regulate abortion. The GOP should not abandon having a pro-life stance. The right to life is a cornerstone of conservative philosophy.
However, it isn’t the needle-mover it once was and relying upon this issue as a firewall to keep a Democrat from stealing a seat is no longer an option. Put simply, the Republican constituency motivated by bringing an end to abortion is dwindling.
Perhaps there are fundraising aspects. Some Republicans are still probably willing to donate money to a candidate or political organization if they are stalwart in their opposition to abortion.
Otherwise, while it is admirable to take a principled stand, making the pro-life position the centerpiece of a candidate’s platform will not be what pushes him or her over the finish line in a general election. Granted, it might win a candidate a primary — but if you are an abortion advocate, you probably should not be running on the GOP ticket, at least in Alabama.
As we learned last December, the majority of Alabama general voters seem to have adopted a bizarre mutation of the so-called Buckley Rule. The Buckley Rule encourages supporting the most electable conservative candidate, generally in the primary. In the Alabama mutation, it turned out to be supporting the least-crazy candidate during the general election, which turned out to be Doug Jones over Roy Moore.
Attacking Jones on abortion is valid, but it will not be his undoing, or he wouldn’t be a U.S. senator right now.
The focus in Washington, D.C., for the last few weeks is on a House Intelligence Committee memo alleging wrongdoing by the Department of Justice and the FBI in investigating associates of President Donald Trump.
Once the debate about the inside baseball of the process settles down, the more significant discussion could be about civil liberties and how government can overstep. What is Sen. Jones’ position on FBI wiretapping associates of political candidates?
Of course, when it is time to press red-state Democrats on something, the country may have moved on from this. When that time comes, however, the issue du jour probably will not be abortion.