Democrats Had 50 Years to Save and Protect “Roe.” They Failed.

Early in the first year of Donald Trump’s bedlam tour of Washington D.C., the Democratic Party spent a good deal of time yelling at itself. We lost to this clown because of the tub-thumping Christ!Although there were many recriminations, the defeat was finally attributed to a truly bizarre source.

“Nancy Pelosi Says Democrats’ Focus on Abortion Access Is HurtingThe Party,” declared the New York MagazineMay 3, 2017, headline “Earlier this month,” read the article, “Senator Bernie Sanders and DNC head Tom Perez gave a ‘unity tour, during which they suggested abortion rights were a disposable part of Democratic ideology — later, Sanders added that stumping for anti-choice candidates is the kind of thing Democrats need to do ‘if we’re going to become a 50-state party.’ And on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added to that, telling the Washington Post that the party should be open to anti-choice candidates.”

Speaker Pelosi went further, arguing that Clinton lost because of the Democrats’ focus on “social issues” like abortion and marriage rights. “You know what?” she said. “That’s why Donald Trump is president of the United States — the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That’s how he got to be president. Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively by that.”

Hillary lost because of abortion That’s the best explanation Nancy Pelosi could offer?

Five years later, and the nation is still facing the imminent demise Roe v. Wade, the right of choice in abortion that has been in place for 50 years. The leak of Justice Alito’s harrowing draft decisionIn Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationThis is the political version a thermonuclear bomb, and Democratic officeholders are looking up at the mushroom cloud, as it screams into a sky, and wondering how such a thing could possibly have happened.

Of course, not all Democrats are equal. It seems that there is a moment to profit from disaster. “But in what otherwise looks to be a difficult year for Democrats,” reports The New York Times, “party strategists see the looming rollback of reproductive rights as an opportunity to galvanize key voting blocs, limit Republican gains and perhaps even pick up seats in certain states. ‘We don’t know exactly what the political environment will be,’ said Jessica Post, the president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which helps Democratic candidates for state legislature. ‘But abortion has the potential to be a game-changing issue.’”

Nice to see some excitement in a party that has been down in the doldrums since electing a center-right vanilla wafer whose version of soaring, motivational rhetoric involves multiple usages of “C’mon, man!” in his speeches. President Biden’s own track record on abortion rights is sketchy at best; until very recently, Biden stridently supported the Hyde Amendment’s ban on using federal funds for abortions. The ban, which has been in effect since 1980, is only temporary. recently lifted in Biden’s latest budget proposal, but it had his active support over all the years he served in the Senate.

Those years, especially the decade in the 1980s, were the period when opposition to abortion became part and parcel of the GOP base. Once Ronald Reagan embraced Jerry Falwell and the evangelical Moral Majority’s “holy” quest to obliterate RoeTheir intent was clear. The argument was everywhere, and it was all too sudden. I vividly recall hearing fellow students argue over abortion in the halls of my high school during Reagan’s second term.

The media — TV, newspapers and radio — was the main battlefield where this war was fought, but it was not the only battlefield. In the shadows of the facilities abortion-seekers used to access their rights, a new type of campaign emerged.

***

The Planned Parenthood building on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline (Massachusetts) looks like something Frank Lloyd Wright might’ve built if he had ever dabbled in building fortresses. Large, windowless, with decorative touches swirling over the front façade, the dominant feature is the main door.

The steel reinforced door opens remotely from within by an armed guard. It leads to a small box that can be opened from the inside and a second door. The door is there because John Salvi entered through a smaller version of this door in 1994 with a rifle and murdered Shannon Lowney. Salvi ran away from the scene and then murdered Lee Ann Nichols at Preterm Health Services, Beacon Street. They put the door in afterward, and now, you’re not getting in unless the guard clears you.

A dozen years after Salvi’s rampage, I found myself at that Planned Parenthood (PP) as escort for a friend. My friend wasn’t there for an abortion. She relied on PP like millions of low income women without health insurance. basic gynecological care. PP has always been there to provide affordable services by charging on a sliding-scale basis. PP’s medical practice is based on this principle, despite what the shouters may say.

Had my friend been going to an appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital or Brigham & Women’s, no escort would have been necessary. However, to enter Planned Parenthood in Brookline one had to go through one of the most disturbing gauntlets in American society.

There at the big steel door, every day, rain hail or shine, like Salvi’s own ghost, would be two or three people holding anti-choice signs and chanting, “Praise God … praise God … praise God …” While legally prohibited from barring entrance to the facility, these protesters nonetheless managed to make themselves menacing enough to drive some care-seekers away.

My friend got out the car and the two protesters moved toward her, eyes like fish stuck to a bucket. They were already on her side by the time I reached her side. Hands with spindled pamphlets reached out as the one on the left droned, “Praise God,” while the one on the right launched into a spittle-flecked diatribe — “It’s your baby don’t you want to save your baby don’t kill your baby it’s a baby don’t you want to save your baby” — until I got between them and made for the door.

If you believe it, I tried to reason with the second one. “She’s here for a pelvic exam,” I said, as if she needed an excuse to be there at all. Of course, if she’d been there for an abortion, she would have had just as much of a right to access care unfettered. It was a moment of confusion on my part and did not make any difference to the rant. The KA-CHUNK sound of the metal door closing between us ended the rant. We remained in the box while the guard looked over us. The second door opened and we were joined by people who had suffered the same hell to get in. It was a facility under siege and there was very little eye contact.

Protesters of this caliber gathered at the entrances to reproductive care clinics all over the country every day. My friend got her exam that day, and when we left, the pair of protesters were still there, yelling, “Praise God.”

PP called me shortly thereafter. They had removed the cancer cells from her cervical cavity. She would need to be vigilant as the cells could grow back again, but she was safe for now. She was saved by that visit to the clinic.

***

If you had wanted to ask me about the standing of Roe v. Wade 30 years ago, you’d have gotten a smug answer that tastes like ashes in my mouth today. In those days, the anti-Clinton movement had not yet overtaken Republican Party. Newt Gingrich was still two year away from pouring poison into the wells public politics. The Religious Right was a force, but only in certain sectors of the country, and the GOP had not devolved into an unruly mob that believes “pedophile” Democrats and “Hollywood elites” are running the country.

It was indeed simpler times, and my answer about safety of RoeIt was simplicity in itself. Could the GOP ever allow that right to be revoked? Never in hell. Opposition to abortion had been the most important platform of the Republican base, particularly the highly energized evangelical Christian wings. If you lose that, the whole thing will unravel.

They were the most reliable voting bloc in the country because of abortion. I used to joke that if it rained live jaguars on Election Day the anti-choicers would be heading to the polls with cement umbrellas. A flyer sent to the base by direct mail with a picture Hillary Clinton next to a fetus and asking for donations of $2 million within 48 hours was a good idea. They were the Energizer bunny of constituencies, and the Establishment GOP understood this well. What would happen to Republican Party if the dog could catch the car? If that portion of the base declared victory and went home, the GOP wouldn’t win another national election in 100 years. I couldn’t imagine them putting themselves at risk, and for a while I was right.

They say that it was then. Over the past 20 years, a different type of writing has been appearing on the walls. The Democrats have not seen it. I believe that a wave change in the GOP base after eight years under George W. Bush did not result in any significant damage. Roe. I strongly suspect that they realized the extent of their use, and that they had to be punished. Roe wasn’t going anywhere unless they took a more active hand in politics. They took over local Republican organizations and started their own people.

Donald Trump was the one who gave them control by taking over the party and then letting them go. This, combined with the laser-like focus of the judiciary by anti-choice elements and senators such as Mitch McConnell, has led us to this fraught crossroads.

The deliberate neglect and blame game of the Democratic Party would have made it impossible to avoid the current crisis. Even today, you can hear Hillary people blaming Bernie Sanders for Alito’s draft, and Sanders people blaming Hillary because the Democratic base expects more from a candidate than Republican Lite.

It didn’t take a weatherman to know Roe was in trouble, and yet the Democrats spent all these years staring at it like a deer pinned by oncoming headlights, relentlessly confident that five far-right political hack Supreme Court justices wouldn’t finally do what the Republican Party has been vowing to do since the year after I was born.

They thought RoeAnother third rail was added. The GOP has now seized it and lives to tell the tale. how many other third railsWill that? newly emboldened court reach for? Marriage? Contraception? Privacy?

But, hey, at least Democrats have something to race on for November.

If voters believe they can fight for a right that their elected officials take for granted, then this would be true.

Praise God…

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