Much has been made of the historic nature of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s ascendancy to the speakership of the U. S. House of Representatives. Some say this moment was inevitable, some say it is apocalyptic. However you look at it, it is a first, and firsts invite comment.
As the president of an organization that works to get pro-life women involved in the political process, my question is this: As a “first” woman, how will this woman represent her gender when it comes to the “A” word? For that matter, how will potential presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), aspirant to another first for women, represent her gender on this issue about which many women care so deeply?
So far we can see one thing clearly: Pelosi and Clinton are heeding advice on inclusive language. The Catholic priest Pelosi invited to pray before the House swearing in ceremony warned the nation it would be judged on how it treats the “most vulnerable” among us. This was Mother Theresa’s phrasing when referring to our treatment of unborn children. Pelosi alluded to her own “devout Catholic” upbringing and five children. If it weren’t for her voting record, one might mistake her position on abortion for that of the eloquent pro-life retired Rep. Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.). Her voting record reveals, however, that she has been in favor of every vote for taxpayer funding of abortion and against all legislation promoting parental notice and the partial-birth abortion ban.
For Clinton, the contrast between rhetoric and voting record should receive a presidential candidate level of attention. In January, 2005, she delivered a widely publicized speech in which she called for “people of good faith to find common ground” in the abortion debate. Yet despite overwhelming public support for a ban on the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion, even among many people who consider themselves “pro-choice,” Clinton voted against a partial-birth abortion bill that received overwhelming support from members of both political parties. She opposed a “common ground” proposal that would have prevented the transporting of teen-age girls across state lines to circumvent parental notification laws in their home states. In October, 2006, she recorded an appeal to more than 250,000 Californians that they oppose a parental notification referendum that appeared on state ballots in November.
If the Clinton and Pelosi axis seeks to authentically represent women, their voting records will have to get acquainted with their rhetorical flourishes and nice talk. Young women and women generally are becoming more and more uncomfortable with abortion being used as just another family planning option. This is for a variety of reasons, including increased precision of sonograms, continual pushing back of the date of viability outside the womb, and the humanizing of the invisible unborn children with the exposure of some grisly methods of abortion.
But what chance is there that the “common ground” measures vast majorities of Americans embrace will see the light of day? Virtually zero if past laws of political behavior are any prelude to future behavior. The political bruising Pelosi and Clinton would suffer from the liberal Democrat political machine (queen-makers EMILYs List and equally strategic and wealthy MoveOn.org for starters) would be prohibitive. Working to pass true consensus issues like the federal parental notice bill, the Child Custody Protection Act or a ban on third trimester abortions, issues which regularly receive over 65% public support, would place them well outside the party’s inner circle.
Suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would certainly be cheered that women’s voting rights lead to women’s political leadership. But their elation would have been tempered by the content of the current top female leaders’ abortion position. Anthony and Stanton held positions that were internally consistent. They opposed slavery, supported voting rights for women, and opposed abortion. They acted as if they believed that authentic human rights could not be built upon the broken rights of other human beings. Or in the words of Stanton: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." (Elizabeth Cady Stanton in a letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873. Recorded in Howe’s diary at Harvard University Library.) They would have agreed with Alice Paul, original author of the Equal Rights Amendment, who was reported to have labeled abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women.”
Women supported by the Susan B. Anthony List’s Candidate Fund reflect just this approach to rights for women and children. And the better news about them is that they represent women well on one of the toughest moral issues of our time. The tag team of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Clinton surely represents an increase in power for women. Rhetorical overlay aside, how they use power on this issue, will be an important measure of their leadership.