Two articles in today's Religion Dispatches address Tom Groome's New York Times editorial urging Democrats to back away from their strong official support for abortion rights. Groom argues, as the title of his post asserts: "To Win Again, Democrats Need to Stop Being the Abortion Party." In the editorial he writes :
If Democrats want to regain the Catholic vote, they must treat abortion as a moral issue, work for its continued reduction and articulate a more nuanced message than, “We support Roe v. Wade.”
Both Patricia Miller and Myiram Renaud take issue with Groome's (or as Miller repeatedly, and I assume unintentionally refers to him, "Broome's") argument. Both note that Democratic politicians have repeatedly over the years sought to nuance their support for abortion rights with various qualifications, perhaps the most of famous of which was Bill Clinton's affirmation that abortion should be "Safe, Legal, and Rare." As Renaud states:
But for those with ears to listen, prominent Democrats like Obama and Clinton do articulate a more nuanced message than “We support Roe v. Wade.” They treat abortion as a moral issue because, for them, it is one.
The truth of the matter is that, no matter how much nuance any pro-choice candidate puts into their position, it will be unsatisfactory to those who are inveterately anti-abortion. If the only answer to the question of what to do about abortion is "prevent it entirely" then there is no pro-choice position that has a chance of succeeding in that argument. At the same time, as Miller notes, there is no evidence that a more "nuanced" position would have won Clinton the votes of that many Catholics, and that in fact the loss she suffered among white Catholics in the Rust Belt states had little to do with her stance on abortion to begin with. What's more, if the goal is to create a winning strategy, it's virtually guaranteed that Clinton would have lost more support among pro-choice voters than she would have gained among Catholics if she had altered her fundamental support for Roe v. Wade.
That said, the Democratic position on abortion is already plenty nuanced. As Miller notes:
The Democratic Party signed on wholeheartedly to so-called common ground efforts to find ways to decrease the need for abortion and promote adoption in the mid-2000s. The “Reducing the Need for Abortions and Supporting Parents Act” was introduced in 2006 and included increased funding for family planning programs, improved insurance coverage for pregnant women, and tax incentives for adoption. It was supported by NARAL, Catholics for Choice and the Christian Coalition. It was Republicans who walked away from these efforts when they realized they could make political hay by opposing Planned Parenthood and insurance coverage for contraception.
At the same time, the allegedly "pro-life" position is belied by the utter lack of genuine support for the care of infants once they are born on behalf of conservatives, which was revealed nowhere more clearly than in the debacle of the Trump/Ryan American Health Care Act. Again, Miller notes:
Political restrictions on women’s access to abortion aren’t about protecting life or realizing the “moral complexity” of abortion. Nowhere was this more obvious than the fight over the ill-fated AHCA, which would have banned coverage for abortion, and if the “Freedom Caucus” had their way or Republicans had a shot at a clean bill, also would have stripped maternity coverage and newborn care as essential health benefits. That’s right. The “pro-life” party would have made it impossible to terminate your pregnancy and impossible to get medical coverage for that pregnancy or your newborn. That sure is some moral complexity.
There are lot of reasons Clinton lost in November. And Trump's support among evangelicals is one of them, and certainly tied to his support for abortion restrictions. But Groome's analysis, as Miller and Renaud each show, radically misplaces the role abortion politics played in the outcome, at at least as it relates to Catholics.