So it’s Tim Kaine. Sigh. Like Mario Cuomo, Kaine is one of those Catholic politicians who says he is personally opposed to abortion but supports women’s right to choose. This is a popular position among ordinary Americans, but it’s out of step with the more assertive tenor of the pro-choice movement in recent years. Over at Rewire, Jodi Jacobson had harsh words: “The very last thing we need is another person in the White House who further stigmatizes abortion, though it must be said Clinton herself seems chronically unable to speak about abortion without euphemism.”
That seems a bit severe, considering that Hillary has made a banner issue of getting rid of the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal Medicaid funding for abortion. That’s a first for a presidential campaign and represents a triumph for the reproductive justice movement and its emphasis on real-life reproductive options for poor women. But Jacobson has a point when she notes that as governor of Virginia (2006–10) Kaine was not our friend. He supported parental notification and consent. He favored a “partial-birth abortion” ban. He pushed for “informed consent” procedures that, besides trying to persuade the woman to continue the pregnancy when really it is none of the state’s business, had the practical effect of making abortion access more cumbersome for both patient and clinic. NARAL did not endorse his gubernatorial bid, and no wonder.
These positions are not lofty compromises: They make life harder for women at a difficult time. (Imagine you were that teenager who couldn’t go to her parents: How would you feel about having to navigate the court system and discuss your pregnancy and your family situation with a judge? In a small town, that judge might be your Dad’s fishing buddy.) It’s kind of funny that pundits like Ed Kilgore at New York magazine credit him for moderation and reasonableness because the state’s notification and consent law includes a judicial bypass, as if that was Kaine’s generous, sane, humane idea, when it’s required by the Supreme Court. Ditto for the health exception he wanted for a ban on “partial birth” abortions. At the time, that was the law.
NARAL and Planned Parenthood have sent out celebratory press releases that focus on Kaine’s record in the Senate, where his rating from both organizations is 100 percent. Does that mean he no longer supports measures like the ones he promoted as governor? Perhaps he, like Hillary herself, is responding to the leftward shift of the Democratic Party and the newly energized pro-choice activism that’s caught fire in the past few years. Or perhaps he’s had his eye on the second spot for a while. On June 28, he signed up to cosponsor Richard Blumenthal’s Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prevent states from passing medically unnecessary requirements that hinder abortion access. The bill has been around since 2013, so this late conversion does seem a bit strategic. But if someone is doing the right thing, how much should we care that his motives may not be pure and his personal preferences not our own?