A short while ago, one of my regular readers expressed frustration over the tsunami of anti-abortion measures being considered (and passed) in various state legislatures across the country.  She then asked a logical question:  why doesn’t the pro-choice movement respond in kind?  “Why don’t we introduce our own legislation?” she asked.

Well, the real simple answer is that in most state legislatures we just don’t have the votes to pass anything.  But there’s more to it than that.

With the exception of a few right wing nut balls, no sane politician wants to vote on the abortion issue.  They don’t even want to talk about it.  That’s because these (mostly male) legislators are totally uncomfortable with the issue and are not interested in being lobbied by advocates on both sides of the debate.  Even if they are in agreement with the lobbyist sitting in front of them, they still don’t want to talk about the issue.  That’s why whenever there is a vote on abortion, the debates are not very long.  Sure, you always have your regular stalwarts willing to get up there to make their points but for the most part, everyone dodges the debate and would love to dodge a vote if possible.  This mentality is equally applicable to anti-abortion and pro-choice legislators.  Then, if the worst case happens and you are ultimately forced to vote, you know you’re gonna piss off half of your constituents – and no elected official wants to piss anyone off.  It’s a lose-lose situation.

Abortion

Abortion

But, let’s imagine there is a fervent pro-choice legislator in Virginia named George and he feels very strongly that the state should use its Medicaid funds to pay for all abortions.  The first thing George will do is consult with the pro-choice groups and, knowing the state of Virginia, they’ll tell George that he can’t win because the votes are just not there.  And any straight thinking lobbyist does not want to lose a vote.  But let’s say these lobbyists see things differently.  Say they think that it’s time to “make a statement,” to force everyone to vote which will help them identify those they want to try to get out of office.  So, they tell George to go for it.

The next thing George has to do is get the word out that he is going to propose that Virginia restore Medicaid funding for abortions.  Suddenly, everyone is chasing him down, wondering why the hell he would force people to vote when there was no chance the measure would pass.  And, remember, the buildings that the state legislators perform their work are not very big so it’s not easy for George to hide from the deluge of colleagues who want to wring his neck.

George suddenly is getting cornered in the cafeteria, at the poker table, outside of church.  “Geez, George, why the hell are you forcing me to vote on this issue when it’s not going to win anyway?”  is the common refrain.  Even George’s fellow Democrats, some of whom are anti-abortion, get on his case.  It’s a pressure packed situation that he never anticipated.

Now, if George was an elected official from New York or California, he might be able to go for it and possibly win – although many of his buddies would still resent his forcing them to vote on abortion.  But, in states like Virginia, Kansas, North Dakota and many, many others, it’s a simple thing to say why don’t we initiate pro-choice legislation?  It’s another thing to actually go through that grueling process.

The fact is that most pro-choice legislators do not wake up thinking of abortion, unlike many anti-abortion legislators who can’t stop thinking about bloody fetuses.  For the pro-choicer, who has a more global view of things, it’s a different animal and it takes cajones to pursue what you think it right in a sure-to-be losing effort.

I guess the answer is it’s easier said than done.