Peter Charles Hoffer: Concerning the Democratic Party's Effort to Reframe the Abortion Debate

Roundup: Historians' Take

According to news reports, recently Democrats like Hillary Clinton have been trying to change the way the Democratic Party frames the issue of abortion. We asked Charles Peter Hoffer, author of Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History to comment:

Roe and its sister cases in the late 1960s and early 1970s were never"Democratic Party" issues. The right to elect to have a safe and convenient abortion was a feminist issue, a doctor's issue, and a legal reform issue. Indeed, Republican President Ford was far more pro-choice than his Democratic successor, President Carter. Carter was as strongly opposed to abortion rights (with some exceptions) as the anti- abortion rights lobby is today.

It was only in the 1980 campaign that Governor Reagan's political advisors, seeking a way to undercut Democratic support among Protestant fundamentalists in the South and among the Roman Catholic voters of the Northeast, urged him to make anti-abortion a centerpiece of his platform. That strategy (proposed by men who had little inherent interest in the issue itself) has proven remarkably effective for Republican candidates. Even then, at least one of Reagan's Republican rivals, George Bush, favored the right to an abortion.

The years since 1980 have changed something of that picture, as the two parties have taken very different positions on abortion rights in their national platforms. But as President Clinton made plain, he did not favor abortion so much as the right of a woman to choose. His view, that abortion should be legal but infrequent, is that shared by Senator Clinton. I see no shift in that position.

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