Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now
The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

The Alabama Abortion Law Is the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Planned Parenthood

May 16, 2019
The Alabama Abortion Law Is the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Planned Parenthood
(Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

1. Alabama

I know: Who would have thought that the state party organization that gave us this guy would come up with an abortion bill designed to piss off everyone in America.

Thanks, Alabama.

I would now like to make the case to you that the Alabama abortion law is the most damaging development to the pro-life movement in decades.

Let’s start with this: As Kim Wehle explains, this law will never be put into effect. It will be overturned at the appellate level. It will almost certainly be denied certification by the Supreme Court. It will then disappear into the pro-choice direct mail machine where it will raise tens of millions of dollars for the groups who want unlimited, unfettered abortion on demand.

It will not prevent a single abortion. It will not save the life of a single unborn child.

This is the key: The Alabama law is nothing more than virtue signaling. It has nothing—nothing whatsoever—to do with curtailing actual abortions being performed in the real world.

But if you’re a pro-lifer, it gets even worse.

Over the last 25 years or so, pro-life organizations have devoted their energy to an incremental approach to abortion reforms. They’ve been playing for bunts and singles and never swinging for the fences.

As a practical matter, this has always struck me as smart. Because the truth is, the mass of public opinion is not where the people in pro-life organizations are.

(If you want to listen in on a perfect distillation of this, here’s a link to yesterday’s Secret Podcast, where Sarah and I talked about the Alabama law at length. If you’re new here: The Secret Podcast is a show we do just for donors who support The Bulwark.)

If you want to end the abortion regime, you don’t get rid of it by outlawing abortion. There is a teaching effect to the law, but it’s not strong enough to support a law which does not have the consent of a large percentage of the citizenry.

You get rid of abortion by moving public opinion. Which is hard. It’s incremental. It’s small steps. You have to give up on antagonizing the other side and always be looking to convert people through good will.

It takes a long time.

But here’s the thing: It’s been working! For the last 25-years public opinion has moved in the pro-life direction. Technology has helped, as pre-natal medicine and ultrasounds brought into focus the very real life of the unborn. But pro-lifers did a good job of not asking the law to take steps the public wasn’t ready for and refusing to get into fights about edge cases.

And now, we have the Republican party of Alabama creating a meaningless law with no chance of standing that goes directly contrary to the main body of public opinion and focuses, by design, on the edge cases of rape and incest.

Bang up job, gang.

This law is going to drive pro-choice fundraising for a decade.

And it’s going to make the lives of vulnerable incumbent Republicans across the country very difficult.

How is Martha McSally supposed to answer questions about the Alabama law? Or Cory Gardner? It’s entirely possible that this stunt will help lose a Senate seat or two this election and contribute to losses in future elections.

And as for the cause itself, pro-lifers now find themselves in the position of having to make their arguments not about the vast swath of common ground where the general public agrees with them, but on the single most unpopular parts of their views.

Planned Parenthood couldn’t have designed a better weapon in their wildest dreams.

It’s just one more reminder of why it actually is kind of important to police your own side. If conservatives had any interest in doing that kind of work these days, they might have avoided this disaster.

2. Big Bill

Later today Bill de Blasio will announce that he is running for president because after the year we’ve all had, God wants to give us a good laugh.

Here I must ask you to re-read Molly Jong Fast’s piece about de Blasio which recounts—among other mistakes—the time de Blasio accidentally killed a groundhog and then had the rodent’s death covered up.

No, for real.

And now, the unpopular super-prog mayor of New York is becoming the 23rd—or is it 32nd?—Democrat to run for president.

I have a couple theories:

  • BdB hates Bernie Sanders. This campaign is all an attempt to siphon off votes from Bernie’s left.
  • BdB loves Joe Biden. Wants to angle for a post-mayoral cabinet post.
  • BdB hates being mayor and figures that running will help him get some other job.
  • BdB loves BdB and can’t understand why America wouldn’t open its heart to him.
  • BdB knows something we don’t know and is looking to get out of Dodge before it comes to pass.
  • BdB has a time machine and used it to travel to the year 2000 where he bet $100,000 on a parlay “In 2020 Donald Trump will be president and the mayor of New York will be on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary.”