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Fatal faction

Interview | Some Democrats position themselves as moderates on abortion, but author Ramesh Ponnuru says don't be fooled

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

Publishers will tell anyone who asks that books on abortion are typically hard to sell. (I know, I've written two that earned royalties fit for a duke-but I'm glad I did them.) Most people don't want to read about the gruesome subject, and some feel that after two centuries of considerable abortion in America-with massive numbers during the last 34 years of national legality-not much more needs to be said.

So give National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru credit for writing a new abortion book, and give Regnery credit for publishing it-and for uniting the abortion genre with one that has been successful for the company, the anti-liberal political genre. The title and subtitle-The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life-tell it all, except for one aspect: Ponnuru writes well.

WORLD: Why has it taken liberals so long to recognize that the Democrats' pro-abortion stance led to a realignment of American politics, and not in their favor?

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PONNURU: For many years, liberals believed that support for abortion gained them votes, especially among suburban women. But in fact, social liberalism has been a net loser in American politics. Social issues brought affluent voters into the liberal coalition, but their numbers were dwarfed by the lunch-pail social conservatives the liberals lost. And by the time the cost of abortion advocacy became clear, it had become too central to liberalism to abandon. Support for abortion and social liberalism is the emotional core of modern liberalism, in the way that suspicion of corporate power was the core of an older, and more popular, liberalism.

WORLD: Some defenders of abortion are crooning about their South Dakota victory. Will that affect their long-held faith that they are better off keeping the issue within the courtroom?

PONNURU: Sophisticated defenders of abortion understand that the courts have given them far more than the public ever would. South Dakotans voted against a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape and incest. The pro-abortion side highlighted the cases of rape and incest, and they were smart to do that. If the campaign had been about the other 99 percent of abortions, they would have lost. If it had been about third-trimester abortions, which the courts have made an effective constitutional right, they would have lost very badly.

The courts have maintained a highly permissive abortion regime. As a result abortion is legal at any stage of pregnancy for essentially any reason, even in our most pro-life states. If the issue goes back to the public, pro-lifers can only gain ground; and I think a lot of pro-abortionists understand that.

WORLD: So you recommend gaining ground through an incrementalist pro-life strategy . . .

PONNURU: Our goal has to be every child protected in law and welcomed in life. But when we made a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution the centerpiece of our legislative strategy, we were highlighting an issue where the public sides with the abortion lobby. An incremental strategy, focusing on those aspects of the abortion license that arouse the most public revulsion, has allowed us to marginalize the pro-abortion ideologues and show the public how extreme they are. An incremental strategy has brought the abortion rate down, and prepared the political ground for the day when we can bring it down some more.

WORLD: Republicans made some small legislative gains-how will the Democratic takeover of Congress affect the abortion debate?

PONNURU: Pro-lifers have managed over the years to score some policy victories by putting "riders," or amendments, on spending bills. I expect that we are going to have to fight attempts to get rid of these amendments. For example, the abortion lobby hates the "Mexico City" policy, initially adopted by Ronald Reagan. It prevents foreign aid from going to organizations that promote or perform abortion overseas. A lot of Democrats want that funding, and they are eventually going to make an issue out of it. Other riders keep military facilities from doing abortions and make it impossible for the biotech industry to put patents on human life. We're going to have to fight all of those fights.

If there is another vacancy on the Supreme Court, and the president nominates a judicial conservative, we can expect much more opposition than John Roberts or Samuel Alito got. The left will go all out to protect Roe. The worst thing the president could do is to preemptively surrender by putting up a weak nominee.

WORLD: But Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean insists, "We're not the party of abortion." Is this mere propaganda, or has he done something to make that more than words?

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