The Magazine

Losers for the American Way

The electorate turns its back on pro-choice extemists.

Nov 25, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 11 • By NOEMIE EMERY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

A BIG THING HAPPENED in the elections that you won't read about much in the papers, and the fact that you won't be reading about it is one of the reasons it did. The big story is that the pro-choice extremists took a widespread whipping, which is the one thing the press doesn't want to acknowledge, much less trumpet abroad to the troops. Nevertheless, the big-picture facts are astounding. NARAL, the nation's premier abortion-rights lobby, won 2 of its 11 targeted runs in the Senate, and went 6 for 26 in the House. As the third-worst performing political action committee in the country, NARAL took a backseat to the absolute loser, EMILY's List, the much-lauded PAC that promotes pro-choice women Democrats, which won 1 of 10 key runs in the Congress. By contrast, the National Right to Life Committee won 8 of 10 races. In three Senate states in which abortion emerged as a visible difference--New Hampshire, Colorado, and Missouri--pro-choice candidates lost to pro-lifers.

In state after state after state, in venues as liberal as Massachusetts and Maryland, women candidates who had walked hand in hand with NARAL's Kate Michelman lost races to pro-lifers or moderates. Shannon O'Brien lost to Mitt Romney, Jeanne Shaheen lost to John Sununu, Jean Carnahan lost to Jim Talent, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Bob Ehrlich in a state Democrats rule two to one. It is not possible to say just how the issue played out in all of these races, but it is safe to say nobody lost in the big ticket races for liking abortion too little. On the weekend before the election, Eleanor Clift told a national audience that Jeanne Shaheen would win her state for the Democrats, as "New Hampshire is a pro-choice state." John Sununu won by three points.

Pro-choice extremists then lost on another dimension, in a different nationwide sweep. The Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee made itself the transmission belt for People for the American Way and other liberal lobbies, and waged bloody war on all judicial nominees who did not follow their line on "choice." Among the judges bagged and shot down by the committee were Charles Pickering of Mississippi and Priscilla Owen of Texas, the latter for supporting parental notification on abortions for minors--a stance that most of the country supports.

Bush lost no time making judges an issue. The Washington Post reported on April 15, "Two days in a row last month, Bush broached Pickering's defeat at political events he attended in Texas and Georgia. 'We're going to have more fights when it comes to the judiciary,' he said at a fund-raiser for Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss. Bush said the Senate needs more Republicans such as Chambliss who, he said, would have 'stood up and defended the honor' of Pickering. GOP strategists contend that the future of the judiciary--while not a top rung issue--may nevertheless prove potent in the midterm elections, among voters the White House is seeking to reach."

And did it ever. Chambliss will now be a senator, after a startling upset. John Cornyn from Texas will now be a senator, after his opponent Ron Kirk followed People for the American Way's lead on Owen. The issue of judgeships, a stand-in for abortion, did its part in swinging key states to Republicans. "Last week's election returns did not produce anything like a right-wing mandate," the New York Times is now wailing in retrospect. "Nothing in the election returns suggests that Americans want the courts packed with such judges."

Actually, nothing in the election returns suggests that Americans want judgeships to stand empty to save the great cause of late-term abortion. Having helped the Democrats lose some elections in key seats in the Senate, the Times now wants those still left to increase their efforts, filibustering against judges who don't toe NARAL's line. Ralph Neas of People for the American Way thinks this idea is terrific, as does Ted Kennedy, who told reporters that if the White House wants to "send right-wing ideologues [to the courts], that will cause a battle to the Senate floor." The White House might now want to pay them to do so. Next time they might win still more seats.