An election op-ed by a white man in the New York Times is absurd. Again.
Yesterday, New York Times op-ed contributor and religious professor Thomas Groome popped up as the latest in a long line of bros getting it wrong at our newspaper of record about what cost Hillary the election. His take? Trump is in office right now because the uterus-having crowd and the representatives we’ve voted for care about access to legal, safe, affordable abortion care.
The piece was titled, outrageously, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party.”
Too bad this attempt at a provocative premise for an opinion column is also absurd.
For one thing, voters don’t actually feel conflicted about abortion as a political issue. The majority of Americans — 57% — believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Moreover, a staggering 86% of voters agree that “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” Americans don’t just want abortion to remain legal; they largely feel it should be publicly funded.
Also, the idea that most Americans cast their vote based on this issue has been repeatedly disproven. As reported by Forbes last year, abortion regularly comes in last — yes, last — when Pew Research Center asks voters to rank the positions they consider.
“Since 1992, Gallup has asked people 13 times how abortion might affect their vote for major offices. In their latest question, 19% of registered voters said they would only vote for a candidate who shared their position, while nearly half, 49%, said they would consider a candidate’s position on abortion as just one of many important factors when voting. Twenty-eight percent said they did not see abortion as a major issue. These responses have held relatively steady.”
It’s also ridiculous to act as if Democrats have been hyper-focused on abortion rights above all other issues on the party platform. Behold the results of a quick search I just did for Democrats making a point of publicly declaring their unflinching support for abortion during the last election:
Okay, there are a handful of folks (Reps Barbara Lee, D-CA, and Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, come to mind) who have focused on this, but reproductive justice issues appearing in the party platform last year for the first time ever was hardly being bragged about. And Clinton didn’t exactly have the opportunity to talk that much about abortion; only one debate question addressed the topic, and it didn’t touch on her historic opposition to the Hyde Amendment’s 40-year punishment of low-income Americans with federally-funded health insurance like Medicaid.
According to Groome, it’s Catholic voters in particular who are being turned away in droves from the Democratic Party as a result of the “controversial stance” that we should have a right to make decisions about our own bodies. He writes:
“[F]or many traditional Catholic voters, Mrs. Clinton’s unqualified support for abortion rights — and Mr. Trump’s opposition (and promise to nominate anti-abortion Supreme Court justices) — were tipping points. [D]espite the clear complexity of those attitudes [toward abortion], political discourse largely ignores the possibility of a middle ground between making all abortions legal or prohibiting them entirely. Mrs. Clinton, like most Democratic politicians, fell into this either/or trap last year.”
Allow me to serve up a whole lot of “Well, actually…”
The American Catholic voting bloc is more progressive than the population as a whole, especially when it comes to the presidency. According to Pew Research Center, Catholics identifying as Democrats outnumber those identifying as Republicans by a seven-point margin. They tend to care about people having access to medical care in general, feeding the hungry, and caring for “the least of these,” as Jesus directed Christians to do in Matthew 25. Back during the fight over same-sex marriage, it became increasingly clear that it should not be assumed that American Catholics align perfectly (or even mostly) with the Vatican.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, explains:
“As a Catholic, my social justice tradition calls me to speak up for the conscience rights of all people — particularly the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society who are affected first and most by these [abortion coverage] bans. The majority of American Catholic voters agree that public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.”
I have a suggestion for Groome from my favorite fictional Catholic Democrat:
As for the notion that we need to settle on a “middle ground”? Groome’s opinion would be easier to take seriously if he appeared to know anything at all about the reality of abortion access in this country. Thanks in large part to a decade of strategic party support for pro-life Democrats normalizing opposition to one of the oldest medical procedures in existence, abortion access — though not technically prohibited by law or court ruling — is extremely restricted. A staggering 1,074 restrictions were passed from 2010–2015 alone, making for a landscape riddled with hurtles and hoops, distance and expense.
Next, I’d like to address the use of the word “trap.” Pro-choice voters aren’t big game hunters; we don’t check our candidates’ stance on reproductive health care because we’re trying to ensnare them. They also aren’t single-issue voters, though it would be understandable to put the right to control what one is carrying inside one’s body ahead of all other priorities. The notion that addressing a procedure declared to be a Constitutional right by the Supreme Court and a human right by the United Nations is ancillary or a distraction is fucking infuriating.
Apparently Groome wasn’t paying attention the week of the Women’s March on Washington, when millions upon millions of registered voters across the country took to the streets to reject the misogynistic, anti-choice newly inaugurated president. Hillary’s pro-choice-ness wasn’t what cost her the election — not even close.
Hey Groome, your whiteness is showing.
Based on all the cold hard facts showing that it was white people, above all else, who put Trump in office, any assessment of the election outcome that completely ignores racism can’t be taken seriously, and necessarily can’t produce a strategy that will win in the future. Groome’s fixation on abortion and white Catholics ignores the 93% of the population that isn’t white and Catholic, while shifting focus away from some ugly truths in American culture by blaming those who seek to protect bodily autonomy.
Any assessment of the election outcome that completely ignores racism can’t be taken seriously.
Believe me, sir, I wish people cared more about abortion. They just don’t. And when they’re asked about it, they’re down with not just legal abortion, but publicly-funded abortion. You aren’t creating a winning strategy; you’re mansplaining your way through justifying the sidelining of more than half the population’s basic needs.
This fight matters. We’re at a crossroads in this country and, as Traister wrote right after the election, voices matter:
“We are in a period of tremendous national turmoil. What we are seeing is a backlash not just against Clinton’s candidacy but against the entire eight years of the Obama administration. It’s not just about who gets to be president. It’s about who gets to vote for the president, who gets to stay in America and make their families here and how those families get to be configured. It’s about who controls the culture, who makes the art, who makes the policies, whom those policies benefit and whom they harm.”
Those who craft the political direction of the Democratic Party and the left more broadly must have perspective beyond these anointed few white men. They cannot be allowed to assert their misdirected, lazy strategies; we must demand more diverse and better informed voices in the body politic.