Extreme anti-choice views don’t do well politically. As Election Day comes ever-closer, and Democrats are looking like they’re going to win elections they would have easily lost if they weren’t going up against Tea Party candidates instead of mainstream Republicans, the narratives are shaping up about why the Tea Party failed to win over the voting public. A lot of it will be undoubtedly true: Tea Party candidates have expressed extremist positions on social programs, the Civil Rights Act, the separation of church and state, and, most comically, masturbation. But what is getting very little coverage is how extreme anti-choice positions are likely hurting many of these candidates in the polls. But it’s quite likely that many of these candidates have views on reproductive rights that are too much for the public to stomach.
The mainstream media may not acknowledge that extreme anti-choice views can move voters to the polls to vote against someone, but the Democratic Party and pro-choice organizations do. In many states where the Republican is a Tea Party favorite and an anti-choice extremist, the Democratic candidate and allies have been running ads hitting the candidate for their positions. Sharron Angle, Carl Paladino, and Ken Buck have all faced TV ads highlighting their opposition to abortion rights even in the case of rape or incest. Christine O’Donnell has been the object of national attention for her prior career as a crusader against all non-marital sex, including masturbation.
And it seems to be hurting them. Ken Buck started out with a strong lead over Michael Bennet in the race for Colorado Senator, but now it’s neck-and-neck, in no small part because Buck’s popularity has declined so much more with female voters. Granted, Buck’s history of lack of sympathy for rape victims and “jokes” implying women are unfit to hold office aren’t doing him any favors. Still, it just adds to the sense that his objections to reproductive rights might be part of a larger pattern. You see a similar situation with other Tea Party candidates that hold extreme anti-choice positions. Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Christine O’Donnell also started off this race in a position where it seemed certain the Republican would win. But then more and more information about their extreme views came out—-including strong positions against the right to abortion—-and the races are turning into squeakers. (Or blow-out losses, in O’Donnell’s case.)
The lesson seems to be that what can win you a Republican primary in this environment can kill you in a general election, and that includes strong opposition to reproductive rights. Ken Buck is an instructive example on many levels. His nasty comments about women running for office and his hard line “no exceptions” view on abortion helped him win the Republican primary, beating out the establishment Republican Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton. Buck also expressed support early on for a ballot initiative in Colorado called Amendment 62, which would give personhood status to fertilized eggs, putting even women that aren’t pregnant yet (as eggs can be fertilized for days before a pregnancy officially registers, and many are sloughed off way before then) in a position where they could be held accountable for killing a “person.” When called to account for it during the general election, Buck then ran from his position.
Politicians who want to take extreme stances on reproductive rights need to consider the way that the extremist anti-choicers they’re courting think about these issues, and it’s not necessarily in terms of winning. In fact, as Susan Greene of the Denver Post argues, the backers of Prop 62 have no real intention of winning. They just want to run it over and over again on the ballot, shoring up support for their cause, making themselves out to be saints fighting an endless battle against sex/Satan, and, of course, fund-raising. It’s arguable that they would be among the worst hurt if they actually got their way and banned female-controlled contraception, IVF, and abortion. Then they wouldn’t get to play the part of the put-upon martyrs, but instead would be universally reviled for making life a living hell for everyone else. Not that they don’t want to win, exactly. Just that it’s beside the point. They win every time they get to go on a self-righteous trip that’s fueled by fury at the thought that unauthorized orgasms are occurring right at this very moment.
This isn’t a really good spot for a politician to be in. Unlike Christian warriors who wouldn’t know what to do with themselves without clinics to protest, politicians have very real, immediate ambitions, such as winning office in a little over a week. Tying your cause (winning office in the near future) to the extremist anti-choice cause (which takes the long view, as they should, since stomping out recreational sex is fundamentally impossible) is like tying an albatross around your neck, and one that’s a scolding prude, no less. Pairing off with those folks in a primary can help your cause, since they are well-represented in the base that votes in Republican primaries. But in the general? You start to make people wonder if you have something against women.
Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, like Ken Buck, have also done their level best to provoke questions about why they oppose abortion rights, even in the case of rape or incest—-they’ve made it hard for the voters to believe that it’s just out of some supernatural belief that fertilized eggs have feelings. After all, both candidates have objections to women’s reproductive health care beyond just abortion rights. Angle has objected to allowing women to have maternity leave, on the grounds that she personally isn’t having babies, and Rand Paul has objected to Medicaid coverage for childbirth. When you object to abortion and you object to policies that make childbirth possible for ordinary women, you shouldn’t be surprised if people start to wonder if your objection is to female sexuality. And that is considered by the voting public at large as an extremist position.