Clinton’s abortion remarks miss mark

Published 11:57 pm Friday, April 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton had a remarkable moment recently on “Meet the Press,” as she was talking about abortion. She was responding to Donald Trump’s missteps on that issue, and was full of unanticipated surprises herself.

The chief surprise being that she referred to an “unborn person.” That term is not typically used by people who support legal abortion. Dehumanizing language is key to supporters of the abortion industry.

The language she used, did, in fact, set off something of a firestorm among her usual allies. As the New York Times put it in a headline: “Hillary Clinton Roundly Criticized for Referring to the Unborn as a ‘Person.’”

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But the more interesting — or jarring — thing to me, although largely unnoticed, was that she used the word “mandate.” She delivered her usual pro-choice arguments, more or less the campaign boilerplate. But then she said: “My view has always been (that abortion) is a choice. It is not a mandate.”

She went on to say: “I have seen what happens when governments make these decisions, whether it was forced sterilization, forced abortion in China or forced childbearing in communist Romania. So I don’t think that we should be allowing the government to make decisions that really properly belong to the individual.”

I suppose that comes close to a condemnation of China’s brutal one-child policy. But that “mandate” word was timely in unintentional ways. Through its health-care system, our government is forcing groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to in some ways support things like abortion that their consciences dictate as evil. And the government does so in a culture that dictates these things as mainstream and even expected.

The retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that women had “organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”

George Mason University Law School professor Helen Alvare cited this in congressional testimony a few years ago, pointing to “evidence from a growing body of sociological as well as law and economics literature that more easily available abortion is associated with women’s ‘immiseration,’ and not their flourishing.”

As Alvare put it: “According to leading scholars, it certainly appears that more easily available abortion has led to expectations of more uncommitted sexual encounters  — and thereby to more sexually transmitted infections, more nonmarital pregnancies and births and more abortions.” She added: “Women of color, poor women, and recent immigrants are suffering these consequences in disproportionate numbers.”

If Clinton wasn’t directly grappling with this, it does seem to be on her mind. She may be struggling to voice her conscience without frustrating her base, which includes the abortion industry. She may want to be honest about women’s health and what real freedom is. There’s a better way to protect human rights and women’s dignity.

When Clinton hit on the word “mandate,” she should have opened a Pandora’s box, bringing up all kinds of questions, concerns, obstacles and, yes, evils. It could have become an opening to an honest conversation about the lack of choice so many women find themselves facing.

I’m writing from Hershey, Pennsylvania, where there are women who work as counselors to women seeking abortion alternatives under a 20-year-old program. The counselors see women every day who feel as if circumstances, pressures and even the law encourage, if not demand, them to get an abortion. But women who want another choice have these women to walk with them, giving them long-term ways to help them not only give birth but flourish as mothers and responsible women living in the world.

Clinton could inspire all kinds of reflections and examinations of conscience, however unintentionally. She also could opt to lead in ways that could result in some real freedom, not the faux one her party’s client base mandates.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at