By Alan Bean
Regardless of your political persuasion, these are the best of times and the worst of times. The Supreme Court cuts the heart out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and then nixes the oddly-styled Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in Texas, Senator Wendy Davis and a gallery crammed with abortion-rights activists kept the Republican majority from passing a law that would have shut down the majority of abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.
Liberals are celebrating in Texas, but Rick Perry has already announced that he call another special legislative session with the specific purpose of undoing what was done last night.
Although the majority decision in the DOMA case turned on arcane legal arguments, the Supreme Court is yielding to a massive shift in public opinion on the gay marriage issue. Upholding DOMA is a nonstarter in today’s America, so the justices were forced to cobble together a legal justification for a pragmatic decision.
The same cannot be said for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Gay rights has recently gained in popularity in virtually every demographic group–including white evangelicals. Opposition to the Voting Rights Act is limited to the conservative white voters who control political reality in much of the American South and a fairly large slice of the Midwest. Support for the Voting Rights Act is rock solid among African American and Latino voters.
Southern states may be insulted by the suggestion that their legislatures continue to discriminate against minority voters, but there can be little doubt that they do. It is ironic, for instance, that Wendy Davis would have been unable to filibuster the Republicans’ abortion bill in the Texas Senate if proposed electoral maps that deleted thousands of minority voters from her district had not been declared unconstitutional. Moments after the Supreme Court demolished the significant parts of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Republicans moved to revive a voter ID bill that was patently intended to eliminate as many minority voters as possible. Election laws that create long lines in minority precincts but not in conservative white precincts can now move forward without opposition.
If reaction to the Voting Rights Act decision split along largely racial lines; the abortion debate breaks across the no-mans-land created by the culture war. Personally, I am too conflicted on the abortion issue to support Texas Republicans or to hoot and holler for choice in the Senate gallery. I am reluctantly pro-choice. There are profound moral issues involved in the abortion debate. When a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy it is almost always with a heavy heart. This is appropriate. Pro-life politics work really well precisely because many progressive people of faith are morally conflicted on the issue. We understand and feel the arguments on both sides of the debate.
But conservatives cannot protect the unborn without creating major health problems for poor women who, denied access to safe abortions will turn to back alley butchers. It should also be noted that conservative states like Texas refuse to adequately fund public education and have far more uninsured poor families than the balance of the country. If Texas Republicans were genuinely concerned about the unborn they would give more thought to the post-birth plight of poor children.
Abortion has become a prized political issue because it allows politicians who oppose gay rights and voting rights to regain the high moral ground. “We may be doing everything in our power to neutralize minority voters and discriminate against gay Americans,” the logic goes, “but at least we’re fighting to save the unborn.”
But it’s a lie. They aren’t trying to save the unborn; they’re trying to win elections. Banging the pro-life drum and minimizing the impact of minority voters are two equally effective strategies for maintaining political control. If the abortion issue became a political detriment, most conservative politicians would abandon it in a heart beat. I’m not saying the stalwarts on the front lines of the prolife fight aren’t sincere (they are) but the same cannot be said for their political supporters.