Litmus Tests

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To my comment that pro-lifers have spent most of their political capital over the last decade working within the Roe/Casey framework to push very modest restrictions on abortion, Conor Friedersdorf writes:

... pro-lifers have often made the compromises that Ross articulates insofar as they have focused on those issues. But are pro-life voters willing to elect politicians who favor legal abortion, but also support "modest state-level restrictions, from parental notification laws to waiting periods to bans on what we see as the grisliest forms of abortion"? My sense is that when it comes to politicians they are willing to support, pro-lifers aren't willing to back anyone like that.

Well, I suppose it depends on the pro-lifer. But there are plenty of politicians who fit Conor's description who've succeeded in Republican politics (and no doubt won more than a few pro-life votes along the way): I'm thinking of figures ranging from Kay Bailey Hutchison to Robert Ehrlich, from Jim Gilmore to Tom Ridge, to name just a few. (And that's to say nothing of straightforward pro-choice purists - ahem - Mitt Romney circa 2002.) Pro-lifers have worked hard to impose a litmus test, however modest - Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush were not exactly pro-life crusaders - for presidential and vice-presidential picks, because those are the offices with the power to shape the Supreme Court. But when you go down a level, to the GOP's senatorial and gubernatorial office-holders and candidates - the land where Specters and Murkowskis roam - it's hard to see much evidence that the party is being held prisoner by an unbending, litmus-test-obsessed pro-life movement.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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