November 6, 2006


Life Term (Amy Sullivan, 11.06.06, New Republic)

In September 2005, Bill Ritter, a Democratic candidate for governor of Colorado, stood in a Denver living room, surrounded by almost 60 angry, crying women. His host, Beth Strickland, was the wife of Tom Strickland--the two-time Democratic Senate candidate--and the pro-choice women she had invited to this unusual campaign event spilled out of the living room and into adjoining rooms and hallways. But the force of their emotion was directed solely at Ritter, who stood at the far end of the room in front of a piano. "Don't restrict women's right to choose," the women begged. "Why do you allow exceptions for rape or incest but not when a fetus has severe abnormalities?" others demanded. One woman looked at Ritter with tears in her eyes and asked him why he didn't trust women to make their own choices. [...]

Facing the group of women in Beth Strickland's living room, all of whom wanted him to tell them he wouldn't restrict a woman's right to choose, Ritter had two options. He could take the Cuomo/Kerry approach and allow that, while he opposed abortion personally, that position wouldn't influence his views as governor. Or he could stand firm, explain what he believed, and hope they respected him for it. The first option would be tempting for anyone in Ritter's situation. And it was a familiar straddle--most Catholic Democrats who had been elected in the '80s and '90s opted for some version of the position. But it carried political risks as well. In order to win the governorship, Ritter would need to capture the exurbs that went to both Bush and Democrat Ken Salazar in 2004. Voters in counties like Larimer and Arapahoe have little patience for clever positioning. What they likely heard in Kerry's convoluted abortion explanation was that he wanted credit for being opposed to abortion, but he wasn't so Catholic that it meant anything to him.

The meeting with Ritter, several participants said, was the most uncomfortably candid political gathering they'd ever attended. From the start, the questions were aggressive and emotional. Even so, Ritter still went with the second course: "I told them I could not commit to any of the hypotheticals they were presenting because of my opposition to abortion." But he gave it two important twists. The first was that he made a clear distinction to the gathering of women between being pro-life and pro-life. He would have no agenda to change the current law regarding abortion as governor. He would overturn an executive order issued by Republican Governor Bill Owens disqualifying women's health clinics from getting state funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs if they also provided abortions. And he would sign legislation allowing emergency contraception, a bill that Owens had vetoed. It was an approach that no self-respecting pro-life Republican could afford to take.

The second twist would be more important for the voters outside Strickland's house. Ritter took the traditional Catholic Democratic line and improved upon it, essentially saying, "I am personally opposed to abortion, and I intend to use my position to lower the abortion rate." By reducing abortion rates through prevention, not restriction or criminalization, Ritter promised to let his faith inform his politics without imposing his beliefs on citizens. And it gave him credibility when he said of his faith, "You don't check it at the door of the governor's office." [...]

[Ritter] won over supporters by convincing them that it was possible to be pro-life without wanting the Democratic Party to change its stance on Roe v. Wade.

This is such complete gobbledygook that you have to assume neither Ms Sullivan nor Mr. ritter intend anyone to take them seriously. You can't accept the Democratic stance in support of Roe, which allows for abortion on demand, and against any legislative restrictions, and call yourself anti-abortion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 6, 2006 7:19 AM

The really pathetic part is that Ritter appears likely to be the next Governor of Colorado.

Posted by: jd watson at November 6, 2006 12:55 PM

What always strikes me in these stories is just how emotional the rich white ladies get about keeping abortions legal. They always become all hysterical, tearful, screaming and wailing over a procedure I guarantee you very few of them have ever had or will ever be in a position to seek. And yet they act like their lives depend on it. I used to be somewhat active in pro-choice politics (yes, yes, I know, pace Lou) but the hysteria of the women involved, and the unrelenting nastiness of their insistence on themselves as victims went a long way to alienating me from the politics and the philosophy. I always smelled eugenics in the air -- you know, abortions for poor women always seemed first and foremost for them.

Posted by: Lisa at November 6, 2006 2:51 PM

Of course they're emotional, they're terrified of the coloreds breeding.

Posted by: oj at November 6, 2006 3:58 PM