Abortion has a way of muscling to the forefront of campaign season and so is poised, again, to shape the fairway of the 2020 presidential elections. This makes Joe Biden’s caving to the choicer’s demands for his reversal on the Hyde Amendment somewhat more than trivial.
There was really not much left to distinguish Biden as a moderate in comparison to his primary competitors — maybe he was less eager than some to rhetorically mimic Mao Tse-tung — but one contrarian and eminently sensible position he held for four decades was his support for the Hyde Amendment, which denies federal government funding of abortions. He held that estimable position as recently as two weeks ago, whereupon the liberal thought police unleashed the hounds. He stood his moral ground for almost a full 24 hours before prostrating himself before Planned Parenthood and denouncing his grievous ideological betrayal.
The Biden episode really says more about the Democratic Party and the hold abortion has over it than it does about Biden. The fact that he was so willing, so quick to abandon what remains a very popular and sensible sidebar to the abortion argument is illustrative of how completely any hint of moderation is now grounds for political excommunication.
Besides depriving any surviving pro-life Democrats (there are about three of them in Congress) of a defensible redoubt, the party’s adoption in 2016 of an official position opposing the Hyde Amendment illuminates the extent to which the issue has been emptied of any moral content. The prohibition on government financing of the procedures, and its traditionally strong bipartisan support, is an acknowledgment that there is, in fact, a moral dimension to the argument; that it is one thing to extend someone the right to abort a fetus, another thing entirely to require someone who views the act as a moral tragedy to finance it.
What the pro-choice lobby wants and has always wanted is not merely to secure the right to abortion, but to secure social sanction of it, similar to other modern social evolutions. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., coined the term “defining deviancy down” in the early 1990s to describe society’s tendency to lower the bar on what is considered morally wrong.
Divorce, for instance, no longer carries the stigma it once did. Neither does pornography or vulgar language. LGBTQ activists, having long abandoned simply advocating for equal rights (which of course they should have) now seek something more, something more even than mere acceptance. The marijuana legalization crowd is not campaigning for legalization as a way to solve the drug problem but as a path toward widespread normalization equal perhaps to wine or beer.