Commentary: The Politics of Abortion

Jul 27, 2012

Yesterday, the chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing and quickly  pushed through what everyone is calling an anti-abortion bill, sending it on to the full Senate.

It was clear that this wasn’t meant to be a deliberative process. Legally, any committee has to give at least 18 hours notice before holding any hearing.

When the legislature wants public comment, they usually give several days notice. In this case, it was almost  exactly 18 hours. The committee chairman, Senator Rick Jones, pretty much admitted he was ramming this bill through.

He said, “I will not slow down the process and say I held up something while women are being coerced into  abortion.”

It would seem fair to say that the senator, a former county sheriff, did not come to the hearing with an open mind. Those supporting this bill say it is meant to prevent women from being coerced. Those who oppose it  say it is really meant to intimidate women out of having an abortion. It would also require clinics that perform abortions to be licensed, would require doctors performing abortions to carry more malpractice insurance, and put more restrictions on the disposal of fetuses. In some cases, it would apparently require a death certificate and a funeral director.

During the hearing, the judiciary committee chair, who is not himself a lawyer, made no pretense of  neutrality. He left the founder of one family planning center speechless when he  asked her whether her facility harvested the parts of dead fetuses.

Senator Jones then warned her not to commit perjury, something that she could not possibly have done, since she was not testifying under oath. What happens now is not clear, but three things are clear. First, if this bill goes to the full Senate for a vote, it will pass, probably overwhelmingly.

Second, Mitt Romney’s forces privately do not want this bill to become law, especially not before the election. And finally, there’s one  person even more opposed to this bill: Gov. Rick Snyder. And here’s why. This bill is tailor-made to divide Americans, inflame passions, and make pro-choice forces open their checkbooks and send money to Democrats.

It also will make them more likely to vote. Virtually every opinion survey shows the same thing. Most Americans don’t approve of abortion on demand in all cases.

But a solid majority does not want to outlaw abortion either. A Harris poll last year found the number of Americans who supported choice increasing. The number of pregnancies that end in abortion has dropped  significantly in the last 20 years.

Rick Snyder doesn't want to  have to decide whether to sign this bill. If he does sign it, it will hurt Republicans in November.

Privately, even some abortion foes have concerns about whether this bill is constitutional. My guess is that it will be sent to another committee, where the Senate Majority Leader will sit on it until after the November
election.

Twelve years ago, social conservatives  insisted on putting a school voucher bill on the ballot in a presidential  election year. Not only did it lose badly, it produced a turnout that turned a close presidential race into a
easy Democratic victory.

History repeating itself is exactly what GOP strategists fear.     

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst.  You can read his essays online at Michigan Radio-dot-org. Views expressed by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.