WASHINGTON -- Jobs are Job No. 1, right?
Independent voters swung to the GOP in last November's elections because they were disappointed -- or angry -- with Democrats over a stubbornly high unemployment rate, polls show. So you'd think that the new House Republican majority would devote its first few months to legislation aimed at creating jobs.
But since staging futile votes to repeal health care reform, Republicans have been most animated about firing new shots in the culture war. They've taken aim at reproductive rights, introducing bills to further curb women's access to safe and legal abortions. Last month, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that a ban on federal funding for abortions is "one of our highest legislative priorities."
I'm surprised at Boehner, who had seemed to heed the lessons of the stormy tenure of one of his GOP predecessors, Newt Gingrich. The House speaker from Georgia reveled in exploiting wedge issues and lobbing rhetorical grenades -- to the detriment of his party. Boehner seemed to understand that he needed to avoid Gingrich's mistakes.
Besides, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels -- the dream presidential candidate of many centrist Republicans -- has urged the GOP to "call a truce on the so-called social issues" and concentrate on righting the economy. And, if that weren't enough reason to discourage a GOP foray into the abortion wars, there's this: A federal regulation -- the Hyde amendment -- already bans taxpayer funding of abortions except for a few exceptions, including rape and incest.
But Boehner's base still demands fidelity to a host of hot-button social issues. Tea partiers, in fact, don't represent a political force driven by new concerns but, rather, a coalition of ultraconservatives tearing pages from a very old playbook. Last week's huge gathering here for ultraconservatives -- the annual CPAC meeting -- devoted a panel to "The Pro-Life Movement: Plans and Goals."
If those same activists were concerned about the welfare of children once they emerged from the womb, I'd be more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. There are, certainly, some among anti-abortion activists who campaign dutifully on behalf of poor children -- notably the clergy of the Catholic Church.
But, generally speaking, there's a glaring contradiction in the ideology of anti-abortion proponents: They are passionate about the fetus but indifferent -- if not hostile -- to actual babies who need a generous social safety net. The same voters who protest Roe v. Wade usually oppose traditional welfare for poor women, government-funded health care benefits for impoverished children and housing subsidies for poor families. Indeed, among the programs in the crosshairs of GOP budget-cutters is Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC), which provides nutritional supplements to pregnant women and their babies.
That's not the end of the illogic embedded in anti-abortion activism. Here's where it gets really frustrating: Conservatives refuse to endorse the widespread use of contraceptives, which would lower the abortion rate. Republican budget-cutters have also targeted family planning programs, and conservatives continue to paint Planned Parenthood, which delivers a host of reproductive health services to women, as the devil's handmaiden.
That simply makes no sense. Nearly half the pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and about four in 10 of those unintended pregnancies result in abortions, according to the highly respected Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to reproductive health and improved family planning. It stands to reason, then, that helping women to gain access to reliable contraceptives and to use them appropriately would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions.
It's no mystery why abortion rates are much lower in Western Europe. Those countries have adopted public policies that make birth control pills and other contraceptives cheap and widely available. If we did the same, abortion rates would drop sharply here, as well.
That's one of those common-sense solutions that social conservatives should embrace. So far, though, they'd rather keep fighting the same old battles.