Beliefnet
Abortion is the ultimate gridlock issue of American politics--not only is there no middle-ground consensus, but most interest groups don't want a middle-ground consensus. Never has that principle been more thoroughly demonstrated than in the week's presidential primary maneuverings. The emphasis has been entirely on what candidates can be denounced for, not on finding a path out of the quagmire.

John McCain, whose voting record is mainly prolife, has been denounced for the crime of admitting that there are points to be made in favor of women's medical freedom. Al Gore, whose voting record is mainly prochoice, has been denounced for the crime of admitting that there are troubling questions about the morality of abortion. Nobody's criticizing George W. Bush, who takes the absolute prolife stand, or Bill Bradley, who takes an absolute prochoice position.

Line up with one of the standard interest groups on abortion, and you're okay. Admit that it's a complex issue with shades of gray, and you're denounced.

Meanwhile what the politicians and pundits are missing is that a reasonable middle-ground position on abortion once existed and has been forgotten. That position? The original, 1973 version of Roe v. Wade. Today's abortion rights are much less tightly regulated than Roe envisioned. Returning to the 1973 version of Roe could reduce incidence of abortion while still protecting women's freedom.

More on that in a moment. First, the political recap.

Bradley complained that in the 1980s Gore wrote that abortion was troubling because it "arguably" represents the taking of human life. This is an objectionable statement? Only to lobbyists and fund-raisers.

Gore, who today presents himself to voters as a tireless champion of choice, got in trouble for denying that once his voting record was mixed on this subject. In 1984, Gore voted in favor of a bill that would have defined "person" to include "unborn children from the moment of conception"--a legal change that would have outlawed all abortions, even to save the mother's life. Through his early political career, Gore received high ratings from the National Right to Life Committee and poor ratings from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

When Gore tried to deny these facts in New Hampshire, a prochoice state, he made himself look dishonest: a point that Bill Bradley rapidly seized on, since the perception of duplicity is the worst weakness of the Clinton-Gore administration. Over the weekend, Gore at least had the courage to retract his denials and acknowledge, "Yes, my position has changed." The Bradley campaign came out of it all viewed as scoring a huge win.

But consider: one of the things Bradley complained about was that in the 1980s Gore wrote that abortion was troubling because it "arguably" represents the taking of human life. This is an objectionable statement? Only to lobbyists and fund-raisers. Even if you support women's choice, "arguably," abortion might indeed be the taking of life. We don't know for certain, which is why the issue is a quandary.

But we ought to encourage political leaders to ponder this question, not denounce them for any deviation from the PC line. Bradley, not Gore, is the one who should be viewed as emerging from this mini-controversy looking bad.

The same week McCain, long active in the prolife movement, said that if his daughter became pregnant, they would discuss the matter as a family but ultimately she would be allowed to make the decision. Later he changed this to say that the decision would not be hers, because his daughter is not yet 18.

For his attempt to take into account that abortion dilemmas may happen to nice people, even people like your daughter, he was slammed by extremists. The National Right to Life Committee denounced him: woe onto anyone who does not toe the line of this self-righteous, mean-spirited organization. (McCain pointed out the National Right to Life Committee would be harmed by campaign finance reform, suggesting that this is the real reason it now opposes his candidacy.) Republican candidate Alan Keyes mocked McCain, asking whether, if his daughter proposed to murder her grandmother for the inheritance, the senator would convene a family conference.

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