HOWEVER the Minnesota Senate race turns out, the voters of that state have been offered distinct alternatives on abortion. Going into Monday's debate, it was well-known that Norm Coleman is pro-life and thinks Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that announced a constitutional right to abortion, was wrongly decided. And that Walter Mondale is pro-choice--meaning he is for a woman's right to abort nascent life--and believes Roe was correctly rendered. But the debate sharpened the disagreement and revealed Mondale as a radical abortions rights supporter.
A question posed to Coleman early in the debate was this: "Walter Mondale has said that he absolutely would not support any judicial candidate proposed by the president if that candidate opposed abortion rights. You've taken a different position. Why?" Coleman said he opposed the use of confirmation "litmus tests." Taking his turn, Mondale didn't back away from his "choice" litmus test--he eagerly embraced it. "When we confirm judges," he said, "it should be on that basis."
Mondale also made clear his difference with Coleman on the law and policy of abortion. "I believe in choice," he said. "You [Coleman] do not. I think these issues should be decided by the women and the family. You do not. You're opposed to it. The Constitution is on my side."
Coleman didn't immediately respond. Several minutes later he did--but not by offering justifications for his pro-life views or taking issue with the notoriously shabby reasoning of Roe v. Wade. Instead, Coleman took the issue in a new direction. "You raised the question about abortion," he said. "On that issue, Mr. Vice President, you think there's common ground to be found?"
It was a fair question, inasmuch as the Supreme Court has not pushed the abortion right to such extremes as to forbid all regulation of it. Coleman basically was asking whether those concerned about protecting the unborn and those desirous of protecting the mother's "choice" might be able to agree on something. But Mondale answered the question in the negative by refusing any of Coleman's "common ground."
Coleman asked in particular about partial-birth abortion, an especially gruesome form of abortion done late in pregnancy. Many supporters of abortion rights have condemned partial-birth abortion and sought legislation to outlaw it. But Mondale didn't take the opportunity presented by Coleman's question to join their ranks, not even in a qualified way designed to meet the Supreme Court's concerns (which it expressed in a recent decision).
Coleman also asked about whether parents should be involved in abortion decisions made by their minor daughters. Mondale said parents should be, but only as a matter of "their choice." He said, "It's not a legal question"--meaning it's not a question on which there should be any legislation (though such is permitted by the Supreme Court). No parental consent or notification laws for Mondale, and thus no common ground here either.
Partial-birth abortion is unlikely to come up in the next Congress. And parental consent and notification are matters for the states. Even so, Mondale's responses to Coleman on both issues are instructive. They suggest a candidate who believes the abortion right shouldn't be regulated but rather protected in every way--until, I suppose, that point at which a contrary choice has been made by the woman's actually delivering an (unaborted) baby.
In Minnesota, Coleman is the pro-life candidate seeking common ground. Mondale will not join him in that quest. For Mondale, the abortion right is absolute, no qualifications allowed.
On Tuesday the state of Minnesota, to use a favorite Mondale word, does have a choice.
Terry Eastland is publisher of The Weekly Standard.