The Future of Abortion Politics: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “Ralph Northam And Kathy Tran Revealed The Future Of Abortion Politics,” and it’s coincidentally about federalism.

Abortion is not a topic I write about much, but wherever one’s view, it is an issue that has profoundly shaped our politics since the decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973. It was a big factor in moving Democrats toward Reagan in 1980 and the decision of born-again Christians to become more active in partisan politics. The defeat of the Bork nomination to the Supreme Court is not only a significant cause of our current polarization, but also the seed of our current battles over judicial nominations (and thus a major factor in the election of Pres. Trump).

Recent statements by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Del. Kathy Tran supporting a bill to deregulate abortion (particularly late-term abortion) apparently have complicated abortion rights activists’ nationwide campaign to loosen restrictions on the practice. I argue that the reaction of the pro-life movement to the controversy in Virginia (quickly following the passage of a similar bill in New York) suggests that if Roe were overturned, there would probably be a less federalist, “leave it to the states” attitude on either side than has been generally supposed.

This idea came to me largely due to the disingenuous “conservatives pounce” framing that most of the establishment media put on the story (after having largely ignored the passage of the NY law). The pro-life reaction was even more justified than originally thought, given the previously undisclosed campaign. But the media also missed what that reaction implies about how politics might look if the Supreme Court declared Roe and its progeny (esp. Doe v. Bolton) were no longer the law of the land. That’s a true measure of lazy partisanship, given that the pro-choice side could make an argument like mine to suggest the pro-life side deep down really wants federal restrictions on abortion or access thereto.

As an aside, I would note this is another one of many columns in which there is a media element, even if media coverage is not the main subject. One of the things about media bias that continues to annoy me in a low-key way is that having to account for said bias in a column often threatens to become a distraction, interrupting the flow and structure of a column. But in a story like this one, the behavior of the establishment media is enough of a factor that it cannot be entirely ignored, either.

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