Abortion Reduction Legislation and Evangelicals

Belief.net political editor Dan Gilgoff has a thoughtful piece at Politico about the largely unsuccessful effort by Obama to woo the evangelical vote. Gilgoff notes that even Rick Warren, who was supposed to be part of the new forward-thinking branch of evangelicals, spent most of his time this fall campaigning to deprive gays and lesbians of their civil rights. And while Obama bested Kerry’s percentage of the evangelical vote (26%-21%), Gilgoff accurately notes that Bush had a special relationship with the evangelical community.

Is it possible for Democrats to improve on this? That really depends upon what motivates the vast and highly diverse evangelical community.

Consider Gilgoff’s prescription:

For Obama to break the overwhelming Republican dominance of evangelicals in 2012, he’d likely have to deliver on a classic evangelical issue — for instance, pushing legislation aimed at reducing demand for abortion.

Maybe. Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio has sponsored an act that would work to reduce to abortions by providing better prenatal care and adoptions services to pregnant moms. Several observers, most notably EJ Dionne, have praised the bill and said that Obama should support it (which I think he will).

But the problem is that that might not be the best way to reduce abortions.

If one if to believe the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies these things (although it also has a strong pro-choice bias), the most effective way to reduce abortions is the provision of contraception. The government could for example ensure that contraception is covered under Medicaid, or even mandate that it be part of any health insurance policy.

For many evangelicals, however, the cure might be worse than the disease. The Roman Catholic Church’s position on contraception is well-known: it is vehemently opposed to everything but the rhythm method. And I somehow doubt that evangelicals will enthusiastically rush to this solution. These are people who tried to keep Plan B off the shelves. Reducing abortion without penalizing sexual activity does not seem to be a way to attract their votes.

Moreover, the Guttmacher Institute has also suggested–plausibly–that a good way of preventing repeat unwanted pregnancies is to distribute information about contraception (and the contraceptives themselves) at abortion clinics. The logic is impeccable: women who have had abortions probably want to avoid pregnancy, and so they are a likely good audience.

But somehow I doubt that this will fly with the evangelical community, either. It might do some good at the margins, and perhaps that is all that is necessary for cynical political purposes. If we want to achieve some consensus, however, there is some more work to do.

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.