Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard recently made some comments that give me a glimmer of hope for a turn in our abortion politics. Once pro-life, Gabbard told interviewer Dave Rubin that her military deployment to Iraq changed her perspective and that she became more libertarian on the issue. “Government really shouldn’t be in that place of dictating to a woman the choice that she should make.” She then went on to say: “I would not make that choice ... but a woman should have the right to choose.”
On the surface, that’s a pretty standard Democratic position. And then Gabbard did say something that departed from the party. She drew a line in the sand, identifying the third trimester as a “cutoff point,” barring risk of serious health consequences for the mother.
It’s also been a while since Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal and rare” position on abortion. Gabbard, in the interview with Rubin, actually mistakenly attributed that stance to Hillary Clinton. But Hillary Clinton wouldn’t even go there. I was waiting for that moment during the last presidential election. I kept thinking, “Surely, this woman is going to tone down her extremism on abortion; surely, she is going to make a play for pro-life people who were aching for an alternative to Donald Trump.” But she never did it. Instead, she doubled down on her position in the debates.
In Congress, Gabbard has chosen not to co-sponsor legislation to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a longtime ban on federal funding of abortion that fellow candidate Joe Biden has chosen to abandon. She also didn’t join in on legislation that would override state restrictions on abortion.
If Gabbard feels called to be a reasonable voice on abortion in the Democratic party, I don’t envy her. The powers-that-be are not likely going to be kind to her. But we should all try to look past the knee-jerk partisan politics and examine this life-or-death issue with empathy, compassion and wisdom.
Many of the people in our country who describe themselves as pro-choice are people who do not like or prefer abortion; they simply want to know that a pregnant woman with severe challenges or without resources has options. Some choices for such a woman involve pregnancy assistance of many kinds, including the possibility of adoption — things that we don’t talk about while we are screaming at each other. If you listen to the sound of her voice in that interview, Gabbard seems to want something better for America, she seems to know that America is better than our current abortion politics. People of good will should encourage her to be a trailblazer toward a more life-giving politics.
One of the most reasonable voices in the Democratic party is Michael Wear, who worked in President Barack Obama’s faith-based office. Earlier this year, he wrote an article for The Atlantic, “The Abortion Debate Needs Moral Lament.” In it, he observed: “Our politicians spend so much time with people who agree with them, using talking points cleared by or provided by entrenched advocacy groups and pursuing electoral strategies more reliant on base turnout than persuasion, that it has become difficult to tell if they have simply forgotten how to speak with people who hold a different viewpoint or if they simply do not care.
So many of these controversies would be avoided if politicians were more familiar with different perspectives on abortion, and the arguments and sensitivities that undergird them.”
Gabbard sounds like someone who understands, in part because she might have misgivings about the state of the Democratic party when it comes to abortion. She doesn’t have to declare herself pro-life again tomorrow — though there should be competition for the pro-life vote! — but she could propose some real common-ground initiatives and talk about clearing obstacles for women and families. And people who consider themselves pro-life should encourage and welcome this. It would be good for the life of America.