Elected officials can no longer finesse the abortion question. But they must also avoid the extreme of single-issue rhetoric.

When it comes to abortion’s potential for causing political division, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Before the July 3 announcement by the Supreme Court of its fractured opinion in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (see page 36, this issue), abortion was a political football that elected officials could toss about, but one they had no particular compulsion to run with.

After Webster, the scene is changed. Elected officials who make campaign promises but fail to deliver will now have their feet held to the fire. And every candidate for public office will have to be ideologically certified by one camp or the other. “Thousands of politicians have been AWOL on abortion,” says Richard Viguerie, fund raiser and king maker of the ultra-Right. “Now they’re going to be forced to take responsibility for the issue.” And separate but equal rhetoric spilled forth from the fiercely proabortion leaders: from Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood; from Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women; and from Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League. Said Michelman to legislators: “Read our lips: Take our rights; lose your jobs.”

If these ideologues have their way, and there is little to stop them, they will turn forthcoming elections at both state and federal levels into contests between the approved candidates of prolife and proabortion camps. Other issues, some of them also life threatening, will have little significance politically.

Demagogues And Strange Bedfellows

It is just this kind of single-issue campaigning that serious civil servants ...

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