Where is the Modern Opposition to Abortion from the Left?

by Kevin P. Rauch

Within the past several years, there has been a surge of opposition to abortion throughout our nation.  The annual March for Life has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters and every year teenagers and young adults are disproportionately represented at these marches.  New ultrasound technology produces increasingly detailed images of fetal development within the womb.  In addition, a variety of new restrictions on abortions that are supported by strong majorities of the public have been passed at the federal, state, and local level.

Yet some things have not changed. The primary voices speaking out against abortion continue to come from the political right.  As a lifelong Democratic Party member with philosophically liberal leanings, I agree with many of my party leaders who say that opposition to abortion from those with conservative political views is often inconsistent, hypocritical, and logically flawed.  Based on this viewpoint, I would naturally expect to see far more opposition to abortion from those on the political left.

When looking at the broad range of issues supported by the modern-day liberal movement and the Democratic Party as a whole, an overall commitment to benevolent government clearly exists.  It is primarily liberals and Democrats who have rallied for an increase in the minimum wage to ensure that all workers get a fair and just compensation for the work they do.  It is liberals and Democrats who have been pushing for stronger gun control laws to curtail the number of violent shootings and gun-related homicides.  Liberals and Democrats are the ones who have been pushing for greater access to healthcare in order to treat and cure illnesses and save lives.  Liberals and Democrats have consistently been pushing for updated environmental laws to ensure that our air and water is clean and that our environment is protected for future generations.  On each and every one of these issues (and many more), one could easily classify the liberal position as being more “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”

Conservative Republicans often counter this by saying that such laws would be unconstitutional, ineffective, or unenforceable, but Democrats understand the need for government to get involved on all of these issues to help ensure greater fairness and morally-sound legislation to prevent (or at least attempt to prevent) individuals and corporations from acting in their own immediate interests at the expense of others, the community as a whole, and future generations.

It is precisely this logic that makes me, as a liberal Democrat, recognize the need for strong government intervention on the issue of abortion as well.  The fact that thousands of human lives have been ended before birth every year can be seen as a tragedy in itself.  This is an issue that I believe government can and should work to prevent.

Often, the circumstances leading to abortion involve financial instability and concern for the well-being of the child after birth.  In the current state of our society, these concerns strengthen arguments against new abortion laws and, for a number of people, offer some justification for the procedure itself–but this still does not mean that abortion would be the best solution for women in these circumstances. And if the government were to ensure that all pregnant women were given paid maternity leave and that all Americans (in particular, pregnant women, children, and teenagers) were guaranteed the right to healthcare and other necessities, abortions (in the majority of circumstances) would be far less justifiable from this perspective.

Considering the reality of our current political system, I can also understand the view that it is unlikely (or perhaps impossible) that liberal reforms such as paid maternity leave and Medicare for all will pass at any point in the foreseeable future.  One could then argue that the case for stronger abortion laws would become negotiable only after such reforms have legally taken place.  In today’s political climate, I do not take issue with direct opposition to abortion laws per se, but rather with the overall message and strategy that is being pursued by many abortion rights activists.  The primary view that is being actively promoted by the leaders of this movement is that abortion is an absolute, fundamental right, and that any concern for the well-being of the child inside the womb has no merit whatsoever.

My view is that care for a pregnant woman and care for her child in the womb are in no way mutually exclusive.  While I acknowledge that there are a handful of exceptions, I believe that it is entirely possible to care for both mother and child in the vast majority of cases.  However, many of the abortion laws being advanced by conservative Republicans do not adequately provide protections for the mother or even for the child after birth.  I feel that the best way for liberal Democrats to respond to these laws would be to argue for better alternatives that mandate comprehensive government programs to go along with such legislation, rather than arguing against the premise of the legislation itself.

While I certainly have had ethical concerns regarding many of the strategies employed by the conservative anti-abortion community, I have recently been more troubled with what has been going on among various abortion rights advocates.  While most of these advocates would proudly call themselves “pro-choice” on the issue of abortion, they have voiced hardly any concern for the many women who are being pressured to have abortions against their wishes.  There has been substantially little acknowledgement of the increasing number of young Americans participating in the annual “March for Life” each year.  During the trial and conviction of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell this past spring, there was evidence of many in the abortion rights camp not even wanting to mention this story for fear that it would undermine support for legal abortion.

Over the past forty years, there have been significant advances made in the field of science.  People have begun to understand the importance of conserving energy, water, and our natural food supply.  The nation has taken up recycling on a large scale, and most appliances are gradually become more energy efficient.  In addition, many philosophical positions and medical opinions have changed over the years, as increased evidence disproves commonly-held theories of the past.  In most cases, those Americans who identify as liberal are the ones who are most open to changing their thinking and advocating a new approach.  For this reason, I believe that it is important for liberals to be willing to keep themselves open to similar evidence that may indicate the need for a changing philosophy on abortion.

I realize that many people with liberal views would not agree that stronger abortion laws could ever be a good thing.  I am not attempting to bring all self-identified liberals into the pro-life camp.  However, there is solid evidence that many of the recent positions and actions taken by various abortion rights activists are going against our traditional liberal values.  It is important that we make a point to speak against whatever injustices we perceive from these groups as well.  In addition, we all need to make an effort to unite behind pro-lifers who share our liberal values in order to find common ground and to ensure that they are adequately represented in politics as well.  This is essential not only because it would help broaden our base and support for key liberal ideas, but also because excluding members who are pushing for greater government intervention out of concern for the well-being of human lives is an extremely illiberal thing to do!