174 Comments

The Democrats have a huge opportunity to capitalize on Republican overreach on abortion, but in order to do that, they cannot tie themselves to policies that are even less popular. And the position that a abortion should be legal at 39 weeks for non medical reasons is genuinely extreme. Just think through what that entails exactly. And the opposition of course does not need to argue that the extreme cases are typical or even common.

The idea that there should be no restrictions whatsoever needs to be dropped fast, before it solidifies as a "defund the police" style messaging nightmare.

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The Democrats HAD a huge opportunity to capitalize on Republican lunacy after Donald Trump was elected in 2016- that presented them with a once a in generation chance to grab millions of moderate and centrist voters who were disgusted by Trump and would have been willing to join a big-tent coalition that pushed moderate policies that were left leaning but popular. Instead, they completely squandered it to such an extent that Trump nearly won reelection and they were losing seats in the House between 2018 and 2020. I see no evidence that the same party that bungled that unbelievably promising chance at seizing sweeping majorities in Congress and across the country will have more success at recognizing their own mistakes and tacking back towards moderate but far more popular positions on this issue.

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And they focused like a laser on truly popular things - principally health care- and won big in 2018!

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2018-20 was actually kind of a mixed bag. If you look at (a) the votes that Democratic members of Congress took in 2019 and 2020, or (b) the ads that Dem congressional and gubernatorial candidates ran in 2020, they were for the most part pretty moderate and consonant with public opinion. On the other hand, you had the majority of the Democratic presidential candidates trying to one-up each other with leftier-than-thou positions throughout the primary, and then you had a lot of activist overreach in the wake of George Floyd with "defund the police" and what not.

When you consider all of that, 2020 makes a lot of sense as the results there were also a mixed bag: Biden won, but the Dems lost seats in the House, but they still kept the House, but they picked up seats in the Senate, but they lost a winnable Senate race in NC. The obvious lesson to draw from that mixed bag is to keep the good stuff (the smart normie-friendly positions taken in the 2020 campaign ads) while jettisoning the bad stuff (taking the bait on every unpopular culture-war issue). Instead, we've got idiots like Will Stancil feeding the left-wing id by telling everyone what they want to hear, which is to do the exact opposite. (The first time I heard of Stancil was right after Election Day 2020 when he pinned the loss on the Dems' in-his-view incompetent strategy of emphasizing pocketbook issues in their ads.) Unfortunately, what this shows is that it's the voters and donors who have pulled the Schumers and Pelosis down, rather than the other way around. So even if you had better leadership in the Party (which would be nice), it would be swimming against the tide of public opinion within the Party's base.

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There is a categorical error in Gunnar's comment that there would be a "Democratic position." No one can state a Democratic position that all Democratic officeholders, office seekers, activists, policy wonks, funders and interest groups will sign up to. Any stated position will cause divisions.

So the answer is simple: apply the McConnell rule (as I've argued a few times before). Offer no positions (or hand wave that of course Democrats will seek reasonable compromises with zero detail). Instead, our position is one that unifies us: that Republicans are going way over the top and are rushing to pass terrible legislation that will oppress women (and please use the word "women"!) in most states and, if they get their way, the entire nation.

Our position on late term abortion policy should be: look what these crazy Republicans are doing!

Our position on the Hyde Amendment will be: look what these crazy Republicans are doing!

Our position on at what stage the fetus begins to have some rights is: look what these crazy Republicans are doing!

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Except that 49 Democratic senators voted in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act just a couple of weeks ago, so their stance against all restrictions is now on the record. This was political malpractice by Schumer, in my opinion.

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I think that 98% of the Democratic Senators voting for this -- including pro-life Bob Casey -- is perhaps the most interesting fact. Whether the legislation itself could be considered all that divisive in the general body politic comes down to if one thinks allowing abortion after fetal viability to protect the woman's health is the great issue that people will fasten on. Perhaps; I don't think so.

Most people think Schumer's malpractice -- if that is what it is -- was in putting forward the bill for mere messaging purposes and being unable to actually pass anything into law. That also could be, but if the Democrats follow my simple rule (attack! attack! attack!) from here on, I don't think this vote will do any damage to their prospects or that indeed anyone will remember it by November.

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It’s malpractice to put it up to a vote when you know you don’t have 50. Yes, it would still be filibustered, but then you would at least have a case for killing the filibuster to get it done. But without 50, there is no case and it makes us look weak.

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Maybe you're right.

Or maybe people really won't care and they'll vote based on other things.

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If you want a real messaging bill to put the Repubs on defense, how about: “no state can pass a bill prohibiting an abortion to a rape or incest victim”? You’ll get more than 49 for that, maybe still not enough to break a filibuster, but voting against that would be a very hard vote to defend and could be highly useful this fall.

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I've literally never heard anybody say that "abortion should be legal at 39 weeks for non medical reasons." Can you (or one of the 37 people who "liked" this comment) provide a citation showing otherwise?

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Several states have no term restrictions on abortion: https://www.axios.com/2022/05/14/abortion-state-laws-bans-roe-supreme-court.

I agree that you don't often hear arguments explicitly in favor of abortion at 39 weeks for non-medical reasons, but it is common for people to argue that restrictions are unnecessary because no one is terminating a pregnancy at that late stage without a severe medical reason.

I think that's generally true, but then the winning position seems to me to be implementing some kind of manageable restrictions (e.g. the two doctor thing) for late term abortions.

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I personally think abortion should be legal at any point, including at 39 weeks for nonmedical reasons. I don't know why any mother would choose to do that, but personally I'm in favor of giving her the right to do it. I'm not a spokesperson for the Democrats though.

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Whether anyone says it explicitly, that's the necessary implication of opposing laws banning late-term abortions that otherwise include exceptions for the health and safety of the mother. (Note: I am 100% pro-choice -- a woman should be able to have an abortion right up until the fetus leaves her body for any reason she wants -- but I find a lot of pro-choice rhetoric on the subject of late-term abortions to be intellectually dishonest in a way that hurts support for abortion more broadly.)

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Just to question that position, what non-medical reason, even under a *completely* libertarian position, is there that could justify killing a fetus that’s viable outside the womb?

Labor needs to be induced either way, why is it permissible to kill a human who is entirely capable of surviving outside the womb before doing so?

Surely past the point of viability the fetus should benefit from the harm principle just as much as the mother, and her convenience no longer outweighs its life?

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I, for one, believe abortion should be legal through the 75th trimester.

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Someone needs to build a teenager sized vacuum first

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From a *completely* libertarian position? Absolute bodily integrity of the mother would be the main reason, plus it's complementary to being able to use deadly force against trespassers who won't voluntarily leave one's property.

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That seems a hugeeeeee stretch.

After all, a viable fetus is now worthy of bodily integrity... it is a mere accident of timing that it's still in its mother's womb and not outside, an accident which can be rectified precisely as easily as aborting it.

Moreover, it's not trespassing of its own volition, nor does it (again, non-medical) pose a threat to the mother.

If we're to use "trespassing" as an analytical framework, then this situation is most analogous to someone fainting while cutting across the corner of your yard; sure, they won't voluntarily leave your property, but there's no moral framework in which you're allowed to kill them for it.

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I strongly disagree that a viable fetus is "worthy" of bodily integrity -- the mother is an actual existing person, while the fetus is a potentiality. In a conflict between the two, the former should take precedence. In re the trespassing analogy, I believe a completely libertarian position (which is what you asked about) would allow the use of deadly force versus the unconscious trespasser at the property owner's discretion since they were never invited or authorized to be on the property in the first place.

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It's not a terrible idea for Democrats to talk about what restrictions on abortion they support. If they're against legal abortion after 39 weeks for non-medical reasons, they should say that. They should also say they're against it at 37 weeks, and 30 weeks and that abortions are sad and should be seldom and safe and all that stuff they used to say. What's the harm in saying those things?

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I think there's a semi-plausible slippery slope argument here. There's a nice bright line between "abortion is legal" and "abortion isn't always legal". If Democrats agree to 30 weeks, when a Republican majority might try to shift it to 16 weeks or 14 or 9, or you need the permission of the father or two doctors signatures when Mercury is in retrograde.

I'm not particularly convinced by the slippery slope argument, but both parties can and do chip away at the specifics of a law in order to render it more toothless.

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Because if it becomes illegal at 37 weeks, or 39 weeks, or 30 weeks, then enterprising young prosecutors will start filing charges against women who miscarry. Which they're already doing.

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No one says it specifically, but the Democratic platform clearly indicates it:

"We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion."

"Democrats oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to reproductive health and rights. We will repeal the Hyde Amendment, and protect and codify the right to reproductive freedom."

I'm not sure anyone who reads this would think the Democratic position is to support the restriction of abortions under certain conditions.

Doctors perform medical procedures for non medical reasons - tubal ligations and vasectomies for instance. Doctors do (and SHOULD) take into account the life circumstances of the patient when creating a treatment plan, and they have wide latitude. In practice, I seriously doubt many doctors would agree to performing an abortion at 39 weeks, but arguing it should be legal and allowed is different. I think many people who consider themselves moderates would feel conflicted about these edge cases.

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I think you should read a summary of the Women's Health Protection Act before making claims about what the Democratic position is:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3755

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I literally quoted from 2020 Democratic platform. Is the assumption that the language you quoted from the bill ("governments may not ... prohibit abortion services before fetal viability or after fetal viability when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient's life or health.") was not placed there to try to gather republican and moderate votes, but only to accurately represent the D platform? Color me skeptical.

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I support that position, but I don't necessarily want politicians I vote for supporting it, since I want them to win.

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The "Women's Health Protection Act" that got 49 votes in the Senate does not include any limits in terms of gestational weeks or viability, right? If so, then those 49 senators do support making abortion at 39 weeks legal. I could be mistaken - I base this comment on discussion in the media, and have not read the exact bill itself.

It is certainly the case that a key talking point for Democrats is that this decision is up to a woman and her doctor, and that it is fundamentally wrong for the government to get involved. This has always struck me as extreme, given that all other Western countries I am familiar with do have limits - typically between 12 and 18 weeks.

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Canada has no limit, due to its abortion law being struck down as unconstitutional in 1988, and the subsequent attempt at replacement in 1989 failing on a tie vote in the Senate.

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You are indeed mistaken: "governments may not ... prohibit abortion services before fetal viability or after fetal viability when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient's life or health." Same as Roe.

Source: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3755

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The language in the 2022 version of the bill reads "A prohibition on abortion after fetal viability when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health." This language, and the bill as a whole, are so permissive that it would be essentially impossible for any state to enforce any restrictions.

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I do believe a woman should be able to get unpregnant on demand but I think past viability we shouldn’t be guaranteed a dead fetus.

The tricky area for me is viable-but-dangerous--how long can we ask a woman to wait to be unpregnant?

39 week pregnant women should be able to get a c-section whenever they feel like it. That is much more in demand than a 39 week abortion.

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If the woman's primary goal is to avoid becoming a parent and the years of obligation that entails, isn't a dead fetus preferable to a premature baby with potentially lifelong complications from being born too soon? Viability isn't a very clear concept, but if it's being used to measure when a C-section occurs so that the baby can be put up for adoption, it seems it should be measured by when there's no longer a meaningfully increased risk to the baby.

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Even my mom, a die-hard Democrat, is uncomfortable with the idea of abortions at 39 weeks without a compelling medical reason.

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I think the democrats really let themselves get run over messaging-wise even before the current situation (a "message" vote for a position they can't win in the face of Roe going away) - the Republicans went around making noise about late term abortions - they picked ground to fight on that was really good for them - and the Dems didn't really know how to solve this.

I think this won't be as much of a problem in the future because the Democrats can choose to focus on the post-Roe restrictions that will go in place (and thus quietly surrender the less popular less restrictive positions) without having to strongly weigh in with either "no no, we think week 39 abortions should be totally unrestricted" or "actually gee, 39's a big number, we're in favor of restrictions", both of which are losing positions for the dems.

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May 19, 2022·edited May 19, 2022

I'm increasingly disgusted by The Groups peddling their purity tests while Republicans work towards an ever more impregnable hold on power.

In the UK, after the Conservative landslide of 2019, a working class politician gave this evisceration of the 'cultism', 'purity tests', 'student politics' and 'culture of betrayal' of activists, whose disastrous consequences end up falling on the working class. I fear a similar outcome in the US in 2024.

https://www.ft.com/video/905431b0-7109-42e3-b0a8-14a2910e40bb

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Agreed. Inability to make compromises in a 50-50 senate is why we couldn't get anything done on climate, infrastructure, etc. No idea how to get out of this death spiral... Small victories can add up to real improvements in people's lives, but if you're not a True Believer you are vilified by the noisy advocates who are so prominently featured in the media. It's important to have folks like that continually pushing the envelope, but politicians need to be more pragmatic and advocates need to understand that.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

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Small correction. *something* was done in infrastructure. Something quite huge, by historic standards. It was even passed on a bi-partisan basis, against all the wise nay-sayers explaining how Biden is out of touch thinking any kind of compromise with GOP is possible (or the sophisticated version: GOP will only compromise and spend when they have the WH).

The fact that the Dems, and specifically Biden, got this huge substantive and political achievement, and yet gained zero political capital, to the point that everyone seemed to have forgotten about it : that is a colossal political malpractice on their part.

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Also: the 50-50 senate allowed Dems to appoint judges at unprecedented speed (finally and belatedly taking a leaf from the GOP), and also some other key federal appointments that may have effects for years to come (e.g. recently control of FTC). Control of the senate *did* matter , a lot, but obviously we all expected (and were led to expect) it would matter much much more. Still, I suspect that with all the just criticism, very very soon we will miss Schumer…

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That was fantastic. I genuinely can’t think of who could give a similar evisceration on television here and have it land. Barack Obama maybe? Does he even believe it?

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That's because Democrats don't have any true working class politicians who could carry this message authentically. Johnson left school at 15, worked as a mailman, and rose up through the union. Obama edited the Harvard Law Review.

Saying that, I think Obama could deliver a different evisceration. Obama delivered the ARRA, ACA, Clean Power Plan, Dodd-Frank, the list goes on. What have The Groups delivered?

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I mean that is slightly different - that was the old school hard left. Corbyn didn't really push "wokeness" that hard - indeed his leadership team used his credibility with the left to call for more police and (at one point) accept the EU referendum result

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Most of the people in the Groups are some variant of communist.

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They're really not. Not in the way Corbyn was. He was not popular with them.

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This is such a great and tragic point. We likely couldn’t get a Shorist optimized Democratic Party without substantial losses. The problem is those losses feel existential for the time being. If Trump doesn’t run in 2024 perhaps depending on who does it could be better but rn it’s just wholly untenable.

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Curious to imagine a world where Romney beats Obama and wins in 2016. Federal Covid response is almost certainly made by Romney and Pelosi and Schumer leading dem majorities in congress. Paul Ryan seems far more beatable. Democratic Party more adept to public opinion after 8 years of im gonna go out on a limb and say moderately popular romneyism

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This is assuming Romney hadn't become a prisoner of an increasingly radicalized Republican party. I could see him winning election or even reelection; I'm not so sure he could have been an effective President serving the interests of the nation with that party behind him however.

Think of George H. W. Bush but with a much crazier party he'd be dealing with than the one in 1990-92.

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They Tea Party faction would've done to Romney what they did to Boehner, essentially.

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My assumption is he loses at least one half of congress by 2014 and has to do some broadly bipartisan things if anything at all. Turns him into Larry Hogan/Charlie Baker for the last 6 years

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We’ll see. GOP gerrymandering is very contingent on its current coalition make-up and distribution.

If the Democrats don’t course-correct the GOP wont need to rely on anti-majoritarian tactics or structural imbalances.

If the Democrats course-correct quickly, then this could become problematic. A hard-fought election where gerrymandering provides the winning balance in the House and the Senate is balanced on a knife-edge would be very dangerous.

If they don’t course-correct until the mid-2030’s or later, then the GOP will have been in charge for so long that the general thermostatic reaction will indicate a wave election and they’ll have to outright toss the whole thing to stay in power. I can see them trying; I can’t see it working.

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I feel like I need a deep dive into the psychology of people who so regularly brush off the importance of popularity in politics.

I work in academic political philosophy, and many of the people around me are far left to the point where Rawls is like, a deluded neoliberal. Obviously philosophers have a self conception of figuring out the '"truth" and being removed from practical politics, but it's still striking to me that "what people actually want" is pretty much never taken to have normative weight. Justice is something you can figure out by thinking about what "reasonable" and "well-motivated" creatures would want. (Conveniently, these imagined reasonable creatures can't speak for themselves, so they want whatever *you* want.)

It feels like this sort of thinking characterizes broad swathes of the electorate now, probably more implicitly on the right and increasingly explicitly on the left. But it really seems like a deep mistake to me, deeper than the level of pragmatics.

And once you add in the pragmatics there's a whole new set of genuinely normative reasons to care about what people actually want - namely that getting to the independently defined "justice" will require some pretty extreme tactics to bend disagreeable opponents into submission. Once those opponents far outnumber you, I really don't know what game you're playing anymore. Even if you were willing to beat everyone into submission, you wouldn't have the manpower. So - what's the psychology?

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They’ll bring up gay marriage. “We’re not wrong/unpopular, just early- we are laying the groundwork and soon the whole country will be with us”. Yeah, it happened with gay marriage, but it sure didn’t happen with abortion and I have my doubts on some of the other aspects of the progressive agenda.

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I missed the part where pro-gay marriage activists advocated for change by coming up with the most unpopular framing possible. IIRC it was mostly pitched in fairly libertarian/individualistic terms.

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Right - I think the big difference is the framing and persuasion. I think you can't underestimate Will & Grace - that is, gay marriage and homosexuality became socially acceptable by redefining what a lot of heterosexuals thought being homosexual was - not by convincing homophobic heterosexuals that their own idea of what being gay was like should be less scary to them than it actually was.

I don't think that's the dynamic now - post-Trump progressivism has a bit more "our view of a situation is right and your view is wrong, so we're going to tell you how wrong you are until you realize that you are wrong and change your mind."

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+a healthy dose of 'only the maximal position is acceptable and anything else is [race/sex/etc]-ist and you are a fascist.

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It's almost like different things are different, already when you're considering an ensemble of N=500 and definitely when you're considering, like, N=2.

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I think popularism is a good guide and something that people need to think about. However, every time I hear someone say that certain things need to be prioritized and others downplayed or rolled back, all I can think is, "OK you go first."

Now the fact is that someone does need to set these priorities, but that's probably going to have to be elected officials. It's not gonna be activists who seek short-term gains and "spending down political capital" on their pet issue vs winning everywhere until the end of time, which isn't always realistic. I'll take climate change. Let's say we can can spend massively on climate initiatives or cut spending to reign in inflation (I don't buy this trade-off has to exist, but Manchin seems to believe that). I'll take the climate spending, because I see that as more important than cutting short-term inflation by a point or two, which is at odds with most voters. Even if Republicans win an election, it can do a lot towards meeting our climate goals in a hard-to-reverse way.

On the margin, I agree that political actors (at least the ones that happen to agree with me on most things) really need to pay more attention to what is and isn't popular in achieving their goals. However, there's more to politics than this, and individual actors face very real incentives to make sure that their pet project gets priority. Often, it becomes dumb and self-defeating (see the Sunrise Movement). I largely agree with popularism on a lot of things. However, a lot of people here treat the popularist argument as self-evident, but they really need to understand the incentives of political actors and their concerns as they push it.

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I think the fact that activists aren't paid for performance explains so much of this.

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I take this point, but I would guess that they define "performance" differently, and that is a huge part of this problem.

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"we're increasing awareness!"

ok cool.

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They get paid for creating a culture where wealthy donors feel like they're a "bad" person if they don't get on the "right" side of the issue (by forking over cash to the "good guys"). It's modern-day indulgences.

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everything from the ACLU's current existence to the Amy McGrath senate run makes sense if you consider political donations to be just another form of consumption spending to make you feel good. Like a massage or something.

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Yep. Or more like going to church on Sunday and dropping $50 in the basket.

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This is a depressingly succinct observation that can't help but be at least partially true.

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in many ways activists' incentive structure is such that winning would be bad for them. Like, if abortion became 100% legal everywhere today, pro-choice advocacy groups would either have to shut down and lay people off or pretend that the fight isn't over for some reason.

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founding

It will be interesting to see how the religious right deals with the end of Roe v Wade, since that's been their motivating force for decades.

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This is why a lot of people on the left simply claim that pro-lifers will move on to trying to ban all forms of birth control, but I'm really skeptical as how viable that's going to be.

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I don't think that's true, at least on a functional level.

The evidence seems to be "they're anti-abortion because that's the GOP position", rather than vice versa. I don't think it makes a difference at all (besides, they can always say that they'll be more pro-life than Democrats.)

https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/articles/myths-debunked-why-did-white-evangelical-christians-vote-trump

https://religioninpublic.blog/2020/08/27/for-white-evangelical-republicans-approval-of-trump-is-about-immigration-more-than-abortion/

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I think this is why there wasn’t any push to codify Roe back when Obama had 60 votes. (It could have been sequenced before the ACA, someone made a decision not to). Roe codified into law is bad for The Groups- a *threatened* Roe is awesome for The Groups.

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As pro-choice, I always liked the framing as “safe, legal and rare.” (If it didn’t ruin the cadence, I would also add “available”). Nobody can really be against safety. The “legal” part is policy. And “rare” is a nod to the moral aspects and can be interpreted in a lot of ways. It can mean some restrictions or encouraging adoptions to one group, or it can mean encouraging birth control and the avoidance of unwanted pregnancy to another. I gotta think that formulation would poll well, as would codifying Roe which is not as expansive as what the Senate just tried.

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Except that “The Groups” always hated “rare”. It implies that there might be ethical concerns about their issue… but that’s just immature. Soldiers (hopefully) aren’t hopped up and thrilled about killing other people but sometimes that’s what we need to do. It used to be uncontroversial to say “abortion is always a tragedy but sometimes absolutely necessary” but that does not go over well these days.

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May 19, 2022·edited May 19, 2022

In that vein, what sort of support would you get for a message of:

"Effective contraception is almost always better than a first-trimester abortion, a first-trimester abortion is almost always better than a second-trimester abortion, and a second-trimester abortion is almost always better than a third-trimester abortion"?

Sky-high, right? Am I just an idiot?

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Support from everyone except the "abortion on demand without apology" crowd. Oh and the anti-contraception crowd.

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Isn't this what literally everyone's position is except the restrictionists? Like even as a pro-abortion person who thinks sex is good and unwanted babies are bad 3rd trimester abortions are the most difficult time to have one.

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That's why it should be our goddamned message!

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I'm still somewhat uneasy about the amount of negativity it has towards 3rd trimester abortions. I don't really know if it's possible to legislate this in a way which doesn't lead to some number of dead or harmed women. A life exception is great but introducing bureaucracy to life and death emergencies seems bad.

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The problem is that if you don't have an exception, then you make it possible that this will lead to some number of dead or harmed viable third-trimester fetuses. That might not matter to you, but it matters to a lot of people, and you can either negotiate with some of them, or you can lose and get nothing.

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Yes, today's "pro-decision" activists seem to be more concerned with affirming the feeling of women who have had abortions than securing the right for future women to have them.

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It’s a pity the human aspect fades away under the maximalist position. Everyone I know who has actually gotten an abortion and cares to talk about it describes their experience as something like “tragic and necessary.”

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I don't quite know why we need to slut shame women for wanting or needing an abortion. I'm not like with the groups here, I feel they need to be more pragmatic but as someone who is really committed to massively more liberal attitudes about sex pretty much across the board it always struck me as very unfair.

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I think the unfairness (e.g. no one is having an argument about how that men need to be slut shamed, despite creating the need for abortions) comes from a combination of our close but imperfect situation WRT contraceptive technology and lack of a clear moral dividing line on fetal rights.

On that first point, in theory anyone with resources should be able to avoid unwanted pregnancy. In practice, practice is nothing like theory, and that "with resources" is doing a ton of work...but we're close enough technology wise to at least have the thought "maybe the pregnancy shouldn't have happened in the first place" as opposed to saying "this was impossible to prevent."

And on the second point, a lot of people have a moral intuition that an 8 or 9 month old fetus is a lot like a baby and has some moral standing, and a lot of people have the intuition that a frozen fertilized embryo doesn't have that moral standing. But that just leaves us with a period in the middle with no obvious dividing line.

Combine these two things and it's not surprising that we still get overtones of moral fault, and they're very likely to be pointed at women and not men.

I think the unfairness of this "slut shaming" may be part of what drives more aggressively pro-choice advocates to try to 'normalize' abortion (e.g. "it's a normal thing that people do, stop acting like it's bad") - if the could win that position, there'd be no shaming.

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In my experience a lot of middle aged (not young) left wing people who should know politics better by now are kind of trapped in a cope about right wing messaging. Conservatives are able to defend their position on the ‘death tax’ or on gun rights and to a properly bubbled left of center person it just seems so mysterious that people who don’t really benefit from many of these policies would ever support them. Powerful, organized, right wing messaging becomes the explanation for most political disagreement which then implies that Dems just need better messaging themselves.

right wing messaging is important and often effective. I would say mostly at driving the news cycle and framing which issues are the important ones in the moment. And democrats probably could learn some good lessons there if willing to admit to themselves that much of the political disagreement in our country is NOT based on messages, disinfo, etc.

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"to a properly bubbled left of center person it just seems so mysterious that people who don’t really benefit from many of these policies would ever support them"

These people scream about non-upper-class voters supporting Republicans even though Republican policies don't help those voters directly, and they simultaneously insist that we forgive all student debt. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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And they generally do not understand that insisting that working class people voting for Republicans are stupid and voting against their interests is not going to convince thsoe working class people to switch to the democrats.

I wish they’d understand that In general, if you want a group of people to vote for your party and you can’t talk about them without expressing contempt, it’s better to not say anything.

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A lot of people know better, but people can be shamed out of a career on the left. The purity team is badly outnumbered, but the grownups didn’t put up any resistance (whoops) when it mattered.

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The last bit is the thing I thought the debate had miss. The messaging that makes sense in Ireland, wouldn't make sense in America, because America is a more libertarian country, which a greater emphasis on personal choice. I do also think you perhaps should have included your point that whilst people like to praise the campaign for changing the face of Ireland, it's more accurate to say that the face of Ireland had changed which allowed the campaign to succeed i.e. Ireland had gone from a country with a low proportion of graduates to a high proportion of them

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I'd add that the implosion of the credibilty of the Catholic Church due to horrific child abuse scandals was also a major cultural background factor in Ireland.

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A lot of Irish people would emphasize the combination of two factors - a long, slow secularization of the country (number of people going to a weekly religious service had slowly trickled down in the 1980s and then started falling off a cliff, going from 87% in 1980 to 81% in 1990 to 60% in 2000 to 45% in 2010 to 30% by 2019), and then a collapse in respect for the (Catholic) church as a result of the sexual abuse scandal.

Ireland is still an unusually religious country by European standards (the comparable figure for the UK is 5%). Also note that the US is down to about 22% (NB, these are figures only for church; I can't find figures that include other religions, so it's probably closer to Ireland when you include non-Christian religions, which have more adherents in the US than Ireland).

Ireland's sense that religious opposition to abortion is about obedience to the Catholic hierarchy contrasts strongly with the US sense that it is about obedience to God.

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Well, yes - understanding the Irish history of abortion specifically and religious feeling generally might have led to a better interview.

The howler that caught my eye was this:

"Q: ... I want to start with Ireland, which is a country that repealed an abortion ban just recently, 2018. How did abortion become illegal in Ireland in the first place?

A: There was a ballot initiative in the 1980s that made abortion illegal, and that was passed with overwhelming margins—around two-thirds of the voting population. Interestingly, the 2018 repeal of that ban was passed with pretty much the identical margin."

Well. Abortion had been illegal in Ireland since at least the 1800s. The 1983 ballot initiative passed a constitutional amendment upholding the current criminalization laws in order to pre-empt a Roe v. Wade type ruling from the Irish Supreme Court.

One might plausibly argue that the 1983 initiative was a rear-guard action by pro-lifers, not an expression of new-found confidence and power by pro-lifers. The actual impact of bettter "messaging" in 2018 was probably about zero, relative to the decline of Church influence that you describe..

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Yes, the complete misrepresentation of the Eighth Amendment as making abortion illegal, rather than as representing a (successful, at the time) rearguard action to prevent both a judicial and a political move to legalise abortion stuck out to me.

It wasn't so much a fear that the Irish Supreme Court doing a Roe v Wade, as that the (secular) Labour Party might make a vote on abortion in the Dáil a requirement of a future coalition and that Fine Gail (the less close to the church of the two traditionally Catholic parties) might grant it.

Also, not mentioning Savita Halappanavar shows that they don't want to understand the Irish situation, but that they are using it to make a rhetorical point about abortion messaging in America.

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I think Trump is actually what made the entire Democratic elite believe that words are magic. His rhetoric, which sounded pretty extremist to urban liberal types like me, brought out and solidified a new base of voters for the party.

Not understanding that this message actually resonated with Americans in a lot of ways, the left concluded that Trump somehow hypnotized people with his magic words. They’ve been trying to do the same ever since, and it’s not working.

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Democratic donors are a big part of the problem. Republican donors understand their desired policies are unpopular and let their candidates be cynical. Republican politicians can assail corporate greed and billionaires as long as there are no major tax increases. Up and coming Democratic politicians have no room for maneuver. Only those who self fund can advocate limiting second trimester abortions or banning biological men from women’s sports. Biden, a two term vice President widely seen as electable, had anemic fundraising during the primary because he had once supported Hyde Amendment and similar compromises on cultural issues. And yet these compromises are precisely what would give Democrats the cultural credibility to win back white, working class votes.

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"Republican donors understand their desired policies are unpopular and let their candidates be cynical."

I think this is a misreading of what is happening on the Republican side. BIG donors who only care about tax breaks are willing to sacrifice everything else, but the base of the party keeps throwing out "RINOs" because they don't deliver what they promised.

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fair enough, but there are enough Adelsons and Thiels out there that Rs don’t need small donors to compete. The Bernie funding model has never worked in a major Republican campaign.

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Biden got 38% of his campaign money from small donors, while Trump got 45% in 2020. Its is true that Biden raised so much more money than Trump that he still had a larger amount from small donors. But the shift of many wealthy individuals & corporations becoming Democratic donors has made Republicans much more reliant on small donor money.

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I think this really relies on fact not in evidence. I doubt GOP nor Dem donors get all that involved in tactics - mostly giving money to the party they align with. And because they don't get terribly involved in the details young, urban, educated progressives are running, mostly unsupervised, in a very counter-productive way.

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Wasn't this the problem with Lakoff?

The idea that it was all a question of framing?

It is built on the supposition that all left wing politics are really really popular and it is only bad framing (or money) that is holding them back.

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Consultants like Lakoff, Luntz, and others are a bit like jury consultants. Sometimes a valuable service, but often just as happy to charge large fees trying to put lipstick on a pig, whether it's a fundamentally unpopular message or a losing case. A team of litigators psyching themselves for battle as they prepare for trial can lose objectivity and the ability to see the evidence through the eyes of a jury. So jury research, mock jury panels, focus groups, etc, can be a valuable reality check to fine-tune the message and uncover blind spots. But it can't turn a dog of a case into a winner. Sometimes the most important things you learn from jury research is to settle the case for a reasonable amount while you still can.

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As I recall there was a real Lakoff craze in 2017. Looking back, it acted as a sort of "Get out of jail free" card for progressives. Their unpopular positions on extreme wokeism (wasn't called that) were purely a question of how you talk about it rather than what they were trying to sell.

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I think that, over time, the left mis- or un-learned the lessons of the Gingrich era in the 90s (the Luntz work that seemed to start this ball rolling). But they never seem to stop to consider the actual impact of what they're doing now with this kind of "messaging."

I agree with the commenters above about the tragic missed opportunity this represents, and am finding it hard not to despair about it, even though I don't like doomerism...

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The Democrats look at the Republican program and see that the main things that they *do* (in legislative) are massive tax cuts for the rich and trying to cut entitlements - Social Security under Bush, Obamacare under Trump. They know that both of these are hugely unpopular and they think that Republican messaging is what enables them to do this.

But they are wrong; what the Republicans mostly do is either they lie about their policy (say they want tax cuts for the middle class, which is much more popular - remember Trump promising not to cut his own taxes) or they just avoid the subject.

Messaging is not about finding the right way to sell a policy. It's about determining what issues get debated. The popularist thing to do is to talk about what you want that is also popular, and to shut up about what you want that is also unpopular.

A big chunk of the left objects to this. There are lots of people on the right that think that capital income should be taxed at a lower (in some cases zero) rate and that labor income should be taxed about the same. None of them hear a Republican say "we should cut middle class taxes and not rich people's taxes" and object to the messaging. You do get some of that on culture wars issues (there are people who object to immigration rhetoric that focuses on illegal immigrants because they want to cut legal immigration too), but they are much less influential than people on the left.

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founding

Lakoff doesn't care about getting paid. He just hates Chomsky so much for their fights in linguistics that he decided he needs to outflank Chomsky as the go-to linguist for left-of-center politics.

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Gotta love fights among academics

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Agree 100%. In big time sports, one of the most important things you can do is scout your own team. Getting an objective look at your strengths and weaknesses is simply common sense.

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Has Lakoff ever worked for a campaign that actually won?

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I think that federalism / regionalism is going to make it hard to achieve a national compromise on abortion.

Pro-choice folks want abortion to be legal at any time and in any circumstance in New York and California, and they aren't willing to give that up in exchange for guaranteeing a minimum amount of legal abortion in Florida and Texas.

Meanwhile, pro-life activists want to ban abortion under all circumstances in red states and don't want to give that up so that they can moderately curtail abortion in blue ones. I think that this is especially hard for serious pro-lifers given that the vast majority of abortions happen in the "compromise window" (<= 12 weeks), so accepting that window wouldn't reduce abortions by much.

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They can’t possibly be genuinely worried about the outcomes that they claim to worry about while behaving this way. They can’t be.

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The problem is the D's coalition building is currently based around running on "Democracy in peril!" while letting all the groups be as dogmatic as they want on policy. So you'll hear lots about stolen justices and the courts being undemocratic, and the filibuster, and nothing helpful on abortion policy.

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When I was growing up (high school/college, etc) the sort of right-thinking liberal perspective was that the Supreme Court was good because it was willing to do unpopular shit like enforce a relatively broad version of free speech, uphold the rights of criminal defendants, and maintain separation of church and state.

But over the last 10-15 years there has been a much larger emphasis on the role the court is taking in striking down economic and environmental regulation, probably because the court has been doing a lot more of that. Additionally it is pretty clear that procedural criminal justice rights like Miranda and the 4th amendment have done nothing to protect vulnerable people from being abused by law enforcement. So the consensus has evolved to be that the Court has limited value in protecting vulnerable people and does a lot of damage to important and popular regulations.

Roe/abortion rights are a throwback to the earlier status quo where progressives think the court was doing something good and legislation would be bad.

But nobody likes to appear inconsistent so the consensus has coalesced around 2 arguments:

1. Roe is popular. This is a fine statement as far as it goes but as Matt and others have pointed out the holding in Roe goes a lot further than is actually popular. And the whole point of Roe is that it upholds a right that would be violated by legislation from the elected branches if it didn't exist, so it sort of elides the primary reason why liberals like it.

2. It is bad to have backsliding of rights/creates uncertainty to lose rights... this is a good argument if you are trying to prevent the rights from going away. But I think once Roe is overturned and like 20 states have "heartbeat" laws or whatever it ceases to really work.

This is a long way of saying that the arguments in favor of Roe, which basically amount to going back to an old school liberal view of judicial review and the supreme court, aren't very well suited for a world in which abortion is contested in the political realm as opposed to at the court. A lot of people say Republicans are like the "dog who caught the car" in terms of not knowing what to do now that Roe will be overturned. But in some ways Democrats are also not well prepared for this situation either, but this better change quick...

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After Roe gets struck down the focus, including national media focus, will quickly shift to purple state legislatures. New battle lines will get drawn in the legislative process and this year's legislative elections, with perhaps something like "freedom of choice up to 20 weeks" emerging as the defining issue in many states. If so, that framing may take over, no matter what the Groups would prefer.

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20 will be tough. 15 seems like a good goal- take the NRSC at their word. Hell, I'd take 12. I like how this Irish politician referred to it as a "protected period" where we "trust women" to make weighty ethical decisions. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/katherine-zappone-twelve-week-period-is-right-way-to-respect-women-1.3436679

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It’s kind of sad a post like this had to be written. This is elementary-school level political action. The fact that so many in professional politics need this kind of basic politics 101 lesson says a lot - mainly that the incentives for in-group signaling are still much more important than anything else - especially actual progress.

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It's also worth noting that in the Roe era America had the most liberal abortion laws on earth and some states passed genuinely insane "abortion any point before birth" laws. Activists should realize they're wrong on the merits and the framing. Very few people are comfortable with late third trimester abortion and saying "no women gets one unless she needs it anyways so no need for any regulations ever" is genuinely a really weird argument. It's also weird when people try to turn it into "lol men don't understand how birth works" when people make the point that some laws technically allow it the day before birth. People have all kinds of laws based on preventing people behaving in ways they don't like but suddenly every single women in the us will, in every single context ever, only ever get a third trimester late term abortion if it's medically needed and that axiom is so true we shouldn't even legislate that it be the case?

We all know the real reason liberals like this sort of thing is that they see it as a solution to poverty instead of addressing the cost of raising a child

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The real reason boils down to lack of trust. Many pro-choice folks do not trust pro-life legislators to determine when late term abortions are "necessary". The abortions are rare, and I think most supporters figure they mostly wouldn't happen without a strong reason.

This all sounds clear in the abstract, but messier when you add in institutional actors and lack of transparency. It strikes me as similar to how gun rights folks react to restrictions on a tiny number of guns that almost no one owns. You can accept or reject the slippery slope argument, or even support where that slippery slope is going. However, it's not "insanity" (or some answer to poverty) that drives this.

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the assumption that we shouldn't legislate any edge cases is a really strange argument that libs only apply in this specific context.

The trust thing is interesting but it doesn't explain why solidly blue states like new York and Vermont legalize abortion through all three trimesters. There's some weird idea that the "doctor and women will decide what's best" but there are a lot of bad doctors and any time something is legal people will crop up to fill that demand.

The only coherent argument for all three trimesters is the idea that you can't force someone to use their life to support a different life. But instead of making that argument they make all kinds of incoherent and illogical arguments that are based off of little "meme" arguments that they get from their side and uncritically parrot as amunition. Like everything social media has made people idiots.

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May 19, 2022·edited May 19, 2022

Refusal to legislate edge cases for fear of a slippery slope is super common in politics and not always irrational. Conceding the point doesn't settle the issue. It gives an additional opening to pro-life people, and they won't accept the existence of other abortions.

Most late-term abortions are done for medical reasons. Those that aren't are often the result of logistical difficulties preventing an earlier abortions. Are these reasons sufficient to allow relatively unregulated late abortions? Maybe or maybe not, but those are the arguments. By the same token, why should people be allowed to own bump stocks when they can be used to create mass slaughter? In either case, the intrustion of legislators who are openly hostile to the whole thing aren't trusted by these groups.

You can accept or reject these reasons. Personally, I don't care if an assault weapons ban leads to other guns getting banned in the future. You can make the argument for why restrictions are more beneficial than not.

However, people have very real reasons to be wary of "reasonable restrictions" and it's not just social media or purity tests pushing them that way.

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Fundamentally, people will only trust restrictions if they believe that the people pushing for them don't want to go further.

This is why England didn't lower the gestational limit for on-demand abortions from 24 to 20 weeks: because all of the people calling for it were people who favour a total ban on abortion, so all the squishy votes in the middle, who might have liked it as policy, didn't trust that it was a reasonable compromise.

When there's an argument about exactly when self-defence is permitted in homicide cases, there isn't a large lobby that wants to legalise all homicides, so the fear that they are getting what they want is not a reason for a moderate politician to oppose allowing slightly looser restrictions on self-defence.

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Hell, you can make the "you can't force someone to use their life to support a different life" coherently: if it's late enough, then you don't have a late abortion, you have an early birth (induction or C-section).

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Which you have to do anyway, just with a dead child instead of a living one.

I cannot fathom any moral code that says “yea, it’s permissible to kill a viable human baby before birthing it”.

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"We all know the real reason liberals like this sort of thing is that they see it as a solution to poverty instead of addressing the cost of raising a child"

Err, what? The progressive preferred version of the BBB act included subsidized day care, preschool, community college, and an expanded child tax credit.

If anything, their problem is that they're too interested in supporting families, and not interested enough in pandering to old people.

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Obviously conservatives don't care about children either and my point isn't that libs do NOTHING for kids. But a lot of liberals are highly educated adults who have children late in life if at all and believe that if others don't do that they're making a mistake. To many of those people, abortion is the preferred way of stopping child poverty and the idea of a 18 year old having 4 children and getting aid from the government upsets them because it doesn't conform to their culture

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Interesting view.

You might want to visit some of the diners these liberals hang out in and talk to them a while to see if they actually have the beliefs you ascribe to them.

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I uhhh know a lot of liberals, Marc

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Yeah... infanticide is pretty rare too but we make it illegal anyway, even if the mother is poor, was raped, etc. That some people won't admit there's practically no ethical daylight between elective late term abortion and infanticide is maddening. Why are we wasting political capital defending the morally indefensible *especially* when it's absurdly rare?

(Though, can't say I agree with your last sentence.)

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Careful, if you post this 3 times Peter Singer will appear here and start arguing otherwise.

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I think it's about people's discomfort drawing transparently arbitrary lines.

Even though, as you say, "there's practically no ethical daylight between elective late term abortion and infanticide", birth does have the appearance of being a bright line, as long as you don't think too hard about it.

Between birth and conception, there is no place to draw a line that isn't obviously arbitrary. The idea that the Constitution adopted 200 years ago gave the infallible power to draw that line to 9 old white guys in 1973 is one of the biggest legitimacy problems Roe has as constitutional law -- it just seems like the kind of rough compromise that's inherently better suited to legislatures than courts.

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