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The changing politics around reproductive rights within the Democratic Party
Harrisburg, PA - October 4, 2016: PA Senator Democrat Bob Casey speaks at a rally for Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Harrisburg.
Democrat Senator of Pennsylvania Bob Casey signaled his support for legislation that would codify the right to an abortion.
Casey and Joe Manchin are the last pro-life Democratic senators. They are part of an old-school consensus that has not fared well for abortion rights.
Since the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion, supporters of reproductive rights have questioned whether the Democratic Party is willing to express the rancor and rage that would surely come from a Republican if one of their key priorities were severely undermined.
The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, says that he will hold a vote on reproductive rights legislation to get everyone on the record. As the ultimate defenestration of Roe seems ever-present, Casey’s statement is most likely a signal of where today’s political energy has pushed him.
Casey’s father, Bob Casey Sr., is the Pennsylvania governor from the Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This decision opened the floodgates for the current attempts by conservative states to chip away at the precedent set by Roe.
However, Casey Sr. was integral to children’s health insurance. His administration introduced a program in Pennsylvania that would be replicated around the nation.
Restricting abortion was essential to Bob Casey Sr., who was Roman Catholic. He was dismayed that the issue was not debated more in the 1992 Democratic National Convention. When a Senate seat opened up in Pennsylvania, Governor Casey supported Harris Wofford for the seat. Eventually, Casey Sr. came calling and urged Wofford to support a “pro-life” amendment in the Senate similar to the Pennsylvania law that triggered Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This Clinton-era Democratic governor threatened his support for Wofford in the 1994 Senate elections, thus Wofford supported the conservative-leaning amendment.
Despite throwing reproductive rights under the bus, Wofford still lost to Rick Santorum in 1994.
It would be the younger Casey who would take the Pennsylvania Senate seat back during the Democratic sweep of 2006.
Unfortunately Bob Casey the Elder was not able to see this moment, for he died from his long-term illness in 2000.
Rick Santorum in May 2021:
Casey Jr. won the seat and was a part of a shrinking anti-abortion wing of the post-Reagan Democrat coalition.
Today, this position has become less viable.
The Republicans captured and stole Supreme Court seats through bad faith maneuvering. McConnell and Trump’s civic destruction wrought a pro-life-friendly majority on the Supreme Court with the ultimate aim of overturning Roe v. Wade - a long-term conservative goal. The Democrats can’t be the conservative-lite party while the Republicans are the ultra-conservative party. No matter what centrists and moderates believe, the country is not that far-right, if at all.
Most likely, the country is center-left and that trend has been confused by Republicans’ use of toxic identity politics to muddy the actual policy discussion and building of coalitions.
Bob Casey Jr. is signaling his support for codifying reproductive rights into national legislation. Overall, it is also a signal of where the Democratic Party must move as the Republican Party grasps power no matter the constitutional or societal consequences.
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