95-10: A liberal abortion wedge?

Steve’s post helpfully shows us a thoughtful debate about liberal strategy on abortion. But maybe Jack Balkin and Sandy Levinson are arguing about the wrong things.

Balkin and Levinson can talk all they want about whether to abandon Roe, but The Carpetbagger has a better idea: endorsing Tim Ryan’s “95-10” legislation (still in process). The numbers signify the bill’s claim that it will reduce 95% of abortions in 10 years.

How precisely will it do this? According to The Carpetbagger, “the 95-10 plan expands women’s health care programs, emphasizes contraception equity in health care plans, and makes adoption tax credits permanent. Better yet, it would demand full funding for the federal WIC program. Then, there’s the flip side. The “95-10″ initiative also bans late-term abortions and requires parental-notification laws. That might be a little more problematic.”

Readers of this weblog will know that 1) they should be skeptical of all empirical claims that aren’t backed by facts (and Ryan has not offered any justification for his numbers); and 2) that the devil is in the details.

Still, the concept behind 95-10 is appealing both on policy and political grounds. On policy grounds, it forms a basis for the expansion of health care and family services, especially to low-income women and children. Abandoning Roe doesn’t do any of that. I don’t know of anyone who likes late-term abortions, especially if there is a well-crafted health exception.

The political payoffs are appealing, too. One thoughtful commentor worries that this initiative could backfire on the Democrats because it sounds like me-too-ism. But 95-10 need not do that. Instead, Democrats should use it to go on the attack. The outreach to pro-life forces should argue that this is a much better deal for them.

“Look: you’ve gotten nothing from the Republicans for 30 years. But the best you’ll get from them is a repeal of Roe. And that will get you little because if abortion is returned to the states, the majority of them will allow abortions. Places like Mississippi and Alabama are the most likely to ban them outright, but it’s so hard to operate a clinic there you’re not getting much.

“Only we can offer you the possibility of reducing the number of abortions in this country by 95%. The GOP can’t match this offer because it requires federal spending on womens’ health care, which they oppose. So take your choice: a symbolic victory, or actually saving more unborn lives.”

This pitch wouldn’t have to persuade all, or even most, pro-life voters. It would just have persuade a non-negligible minority. It would, in other words, be a wedge issue based on progressive principles.

This is important.

—Jonathan Zasloff

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.