The politics of abortion, 2022
Sensible men, who value domestic tranquility, defer to their wives on abortion. Men like Ronald Reagan and Ron DeSantis look to the mother of their children for guidance, and Nancy Davis and Casey DeSantis had and have knowledge and insight on pregnancy, babies, and motherhood that their husbands lack. So it is that both California governor Reagan and Florida governor DeSantis adopted reasonable positions on this vexing issue.
In 1967 Reagan signed the California Therapeutic Abortion Act, which allowed abortions when there was a grave threat to the mother's health, or in cases of rape or incest. Earlier this year DeSantis signed legislation that allows abortion until the 16th week of pregnancy, or when there is a credible threat to the mother's health. The law of Florida satisfies neither the pro-abortion zealots on the one hand, nor the pro-life absolutists on the other. It represents the middle ground, where most American women, particularly married women, are found.
The Democrats placed abortion front and center in our politics, but they have come to rue the day that happened. The Democratic Party is in thrall to the rabid progressive left, which accepts no limits, however reasonable, on “a woman’s right to choose.” The Florida law, a compromise which takes effect next week, doesn't satisfy them.
It will soon dawn on Democrats that they need not look to the Supreme Court for the abortion protections they demand. All they need to do is pass a law. They control Congress and the presidency. Nancy Pelosi probably has the votes right now to pass a law legalizing abortion in all 50 states. It's doubtful the Senate would go along, but this only sets the stage to make the election of 2022 a referendum on abortion.
Democrats will lose that election, and they will lose on the issue of abortion. After the Dobbs decision, as Americans are finally allowed to vote on this question, most voters are conflicted. They don't like abortion, but they also understand it's necessary under certain circumstances. The new Florida law is as close to a consensus position as is possible.
In practice, Florida will soon become a sanctuary state for women in the deep South who live in states with draconian restrictions on abortion. From Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, women who want an abortion in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy will be able to drive to Florida for the procedure. This will horrify some in the pro-life community, who will criticize DeSantis for signing a law allowing it. He will be criticized by both extremes, which is precisely where a smart politician wants to be as he contemplates a run for the White House.
Most Republicans believe in tolerance, diversity, and the federalism which promotes it. Once they again control Congress and the presidency, they will not pass a federal law taking the issue away from the states and the people. That’s where the issue should be decided, in conformity with the wishes of a majority of each state. That's how democracy works. Republicans are comfortable with that. Democrats aren't.
Fritz Pettyjohn has been married for 50 years to the mother of his three children.