These weeks on the abortion front have been stranger than ever, and may be about to get worse. Todd Akin dropped the R-bomb into the argument, causing the Republicans to separate themselves from him and their own party's platform, and the Democrats to open new fronts in the War Against Women, threatening to unleash Sandra Fluke and an army of feminists on a indifferent public until it nods off in ennui.
Concurrently, Ruth Marcus and Jeffrey Toobin in the Washington Post and in the New Yorker lament the fact that the Akin flap has forced the Democrats to distance themselves from their party platform and fight on "Republican" terms. Again in the Post, Ann Gerhart laments that the pro-choice Republican Party of 1972, whose abortion rights platform was endorsed by Senate candidate Lenore Romney, has become the pro-life Republican Party of 2012, whose platform has been semi-endorsed by her son. Gerhart is distressed that abortion on demand is not yet embraced, and perplexed how this happened, ignoring polls showing that the public -- women included -- self-define as pro-life by a widening margin and -- women included -- want more abortion restrictions, not fewer.
Marcus complains the debate is short on "coherence" and wants each side to embrace its extreme conclusions, giving nuance no shift whatsoever: If a fetus is a person from the point of conception, there are no cases in which abortion should be ever considered; if the right of "choice" is absolute, there is no restricting it. This puts a pincer move upon mere politicians, forced to navigate between the common-sense instincts of everyday voters and the hysterical cries of their base.
The abortion position that brooks a rape exception "is easy to square with a desire to be on the ticket and win in November," as Marcus explains it. "It's harder to square with a steadfast belief that abortion is the taking of innocent life." But on the pro-choice side, people like Marcus and Toobin complain that being forced to defend an abortion exemption instead of the practice itself means giving in to the mistaken belief that there's something wrong with abortion, and playing on enemy turf. "The focus on rape victims creates a malevolent dynamic," as Toobin explains it. "Abortion becomes something that women can only earn by hardship, rather than something they can freely choose." This sounds good (to them), but the "freely choose" case -- which extends to sex-selection, late-term and even near-birth abortions -- is only slightly more popular than what Democrats call the "Akin amendment." People do think there's "something wrong" with abortion, and they think that sometimes it is the more humane option. Forty years of assaults from both sides have failed to dislodge this consensus, which is not going anywhere soon.
The "coherent" view on both sides is political poison. The political view remains short on logic, is based on emotion and is hard for even defenders to codify. But logic isn't the answer to everything, and inconsistency seems like the better way out when logic leads one to inhuman outcomes from which most people shrink.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."