Roy Moore is undoubtedly in trouble in Alabama. And yet, even as his Senate campaign rapidly takes on water in the wake of credible allegations that he sexually assaulted two teenage girls when he was in his thirties, the Alabama Republican is being bailed out by a surprising figure: his opponent, Democrat Doug Jones.
In a handful of polls released since the sexual-assault allegations surfaced, Jones leads Moore by single digits. This, naturally, is an astonishing sight in Alabama: a Democrat not just close behind the Republican but beating him. But the gap between them is not, perhaps, as wide as it should be, given the headwinds. A more moderate Democrat — more moderate on abortion, in particular — could easily be leading in every poll, and by even larger margins. If Jones is to prevail in December, he might think about playing down his extremism on the issue of life.
Jones: I am a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body, and I’m going to stand up for that, and I’m going to make sure that that continues to happen. I want to make sure that as we go forward, people have access to contraception, they have access to the abortion that they might need, if that’s what they choose to do.
Todd: You wouldn’t be in favor of legislation that said “ban abortion after 20 weeks,” or something like that?
Jones: No, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose. That’s just the position that I’ve had for many years, it’s the position I continue to have.
Jones went on to add a very interesting final remark on the topic: “But I want to make sure people understand that once a baby is born, I’m going to be there for that child, that’s where I become a right-to-lifer.” The obvious implication of this parsing is that he supports the right to an abortion right up until the child is delivered, the most extreme possible stance.
To be clear, I fully support a woman’s freedom to choose to what happens to her own body. . . . Having said that, the law for decades has been that late-term procedures are generally restricted except in the case of medical necessity. That’s what I support. I don’t see any changes in that. It is a personal decision.
Many on the left have pointed to this quote as evidence that the Democrat isn’t in fact all that radical. But such a position rests on ignorance — in some cases surely willful ignorance — of existing law and jurisprudence on abortion. Consider the phrase “except in the case of medical necessity.” To the uninformed observer, that probably sounds reasonable; most would probably believe that “medical necessity” allows for late-term abortion only in the rare instances in which a mother’s life is endangered by continuing a pregnancy. In fact, the 1973 Supreme Court case Doe v. Bolton defined “medically necessary” in extremely expansive terms, to mean any instance in which a mother’s “physical, psychological, emotional, even familial health” was supposedly at risk. This absurdly broad rationale provides a gaping loophole, allowing for nearly unlimited late-term abortion rights, regardless of state restrictions. Doug Jones no doubt knows this, even if Alabama voters do not.
Just under two-thirds of voters, including almost 80 percent of Millennials, support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
Jones is similarly wrong to assert that “the law for decades has been that late-term procedures are generally restricted.” The law where? Abortion restrictions vary widely from state to state. There’s no “general” restriction on late-term procedures, and Jones has already said he’d oppose such a ban. As, disgracefully, would the sort of judges whom Jones would like to see on the bench.
Chuck Todd asked Jones point-blank in September whether he would, as a senator from Alabama, vote for a federal ban on abortion at 20 weeks. Again: He was not asked whether he’d support a vague status quo “general restriction.” He was asked whether he’d support a ban at 20 weeks. In response, he said without hesitation that he wouldn’t. Regardless of how Roe v. Wade might affect such a ban, Jones opposes it in principle. That is his stance on abortion — that it should never be regulated.
This is not a commonly held belief. The U.S. is one of just seven countries in the world that permit abortion after 20 weeks — along with China and North Korea. And recent polls have found that Americans on both sides of the aisle are largely in favor of 20-week abortion bans.
According to the latest data, just under two-thirds of voters support such a ban, including almost 80 percent of Millennials. A Marist poll from last January found that almost three-quarters of Americans want to place significant restrictions on abortion access, including 55 percent of voters who supported Hillary Clinton last November and almost 80 percent of both African-American and Latino voters.
If this is how Americans across the country feel, how much more must Alabama voters — largely conservative and strongly pro-life — favor abortion restrictions? It’s completely understandable that voters would be repelled by the accusations against Moore. They should be. Every decent person should. But that in no way changes the fact that his opponent is a pro-abortion-rights fanatic who cannot be considered a suitable alternative for any conscientious voter who respects human life. What a sad mess we have on show in the Yellowhammer State.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.