Abortion politics in 2019 is a morality play about what happens when one side has all the political power, yet feels culturally embattled. In this atmosphere, victories are not satisfying if they leave the other side with a foothold, a vestige of respectability. Cataclysmic discord lies ahead.
Abortion politics is no longer about policy wins, but about establishing dominance. This is why Governor Andrew Cuomo could not be satisfied with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which eliminated several restrictions on the procedure, but instead had to light up the Empire State Building pink, to declare that abortion rights were now creedal in New York. It was not just the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, but specifically the display of cultural force, that made abortion opponents feel so embattled and isolated.
This dynamic was also evident in Alabama, where the people in power hold the opposite position on abortion as their counterparts in New York and recently passed H.B. 314, a bill that virtually outlaws the procedure.
One scene from the Alabama Senate debate furnishes a quintessential example of the decline of our democracy, of the diminishment of any capacity our political process might have had to help us work through difficult issues together. During the committee markup of the bill, lawmakers passed an amendment to provide an exception for rape or incest. On May 9, as H.B. 314 was headed toward a final vote, Alabama’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth broke protocol by stripping out the amendment without making a motion or acknowledging his Democratic colleagues’ requests for a roll-call vote. Democratic State Senator Bobby Singleton shouted, “There was no motion. You didn’t even make a motion!” Ainsworth simply ignored his colleague’s interjections.