Buttigieg Caters to the Abortion-Rights Constituency

Alexandra DeSanctis

‘They’re so busy attacking Planned Parenthood. I’d like to know what they think of unplanned parenthood, because there’s going to be a lot more of that if they keep this up,” intoned South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, swiping at GOP politicians during a town hall in Iowa on Wednesday afternoon.

Perhaps his moronic attempt at wordplay could be forgiven considering the presidential hopeful’s audience: The town hall was hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the most prominent pro-abortion groups in the country. And it’s not powerful in the abortion-advocacy world alone. Like Planned Parenthood, NARAL exercises a high degree of influence over the Democratic party; its support or lack thereof can make or break a candidate.

Buttigieg’s half-baked dud of a laugh line, then, was an effort to ally himself with a core constituency of the Left — progressive, abortion-minded feminists — and to prove that, even as a white male with all sorts of privilege to disavow, he understands their concerns. Unfortunately for the mayor, that decidedly not-clever comment was the high point of his speech, which droned on for about 20 minutes and took his audience through a highlight reel of the GOP’s supposed animosity toward women and their freedoms.

One has to feel a bit of pity for him. After getting a bump in the polls during March and April, Buttigieg has since run out of steam, languishing in the second tier behind Senators Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) — both of whom have considerably more feminist bona fides than he does, starting with the simple fact that they’re both women.

Capturing the NARAL vote is considerably easier for anyone who can’t be told, “No uterus, no opinion.”

Even so, the mayor can’t be accused of failing to try. His remarks on Wednesday ran the gamut from pandering to pathetic, as he called himself a feminist and insisted that “men running for president [must] be twice as vocal about this issue at this time.”

Throughout the primary thus far, though, Buttigieg has shied away from questions about when and whether he’d limit abortion in any way, instead punting to vague platitudes about “trusting women.” He tried this again in the town hall: “If we mean business when it comes to freedom, that means defending reproductive freedom and the rights of women to make their own health-care decisions.”

But, of course, abortion isn’t a “health-care decision” at all, as much as supporters of the “right to choose” would like us to believe it is. Abortion is a medical procedure that ends a distinct human life. Any policy conversation that ignores the central question of whether this particular type of killing ought to be legal ignores the heart of the controversy.

Thus far, and likely by design, Buttigieg’s attempts at conversing about abortion have been nothing but dodges. “Even among people who have different views about where to draw the line, we have reached a decision about who should draw the line,” he said, invoking polls that show majority support for the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade. A Harvard graduate, Buttigieg is surely intelligent enough to know that support for Roe — a widely misrepresented and misunderstood ruling — is not the same as support for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, the federal abortion policy he advocates.

But Buttigieg knows his crowd. He knocked Vice President Mike Pence for his pro-life views, begging the audience, “Please don’t judge my state by our former governor.” He attacked the Trump administration for “forcing Planned Parenthood to withdraw” from the Title X family-planning program, a malicious twisting of the facts designed to hide Planned Parenthood’s dedication to profiting from abortion.

And he had lots of promises for viewers, vowing to “ensure access to abortion care and proactively expand access to reproductive health,” eliminate the Hyde amendment that prohibits direct federal funding for abortion, and appoint judges “who understand that reproductive freedom is an American right.”

But the most egregious part of his speech came at the end, when he distorted the story of an abortion controversy during his time as mayor. Last spring, as a Whole Women’s Health abortion clinic tried to open in South Bend — delayed by an ongoing health-and-safety investigation of its clinic in another state — a local pregnancy-resource center sought to open a new location next door.

The Women’s Care Center (WCC) was founded in South Bend in 1984 to offer resources to help women with unexpected pregnancies carry their children to term, and today it operates the largest network of pregnancy-resource centers in the country. In every city where the WCC has a location, it opens next to an abortion clinic, so that pregnant women who don’t want an abortion will know there are other options.

As mayor, Buttigieg vetoed the WCC’s request to open next to the Whole Women’s Health clinic, claiming that it would endanger the community. Here’s how Buttigieg characterized the incident in his speech on Wednesday:

For several years we’ve gone without a provider at all in my community, and then a Whole Women’s Health clinic sought to open in South Bend, the first to make abortion services available since 2015. I know how important this is in our area, even as the state puts up all kinds of invented licensing and bureaucratic hurdles to block them. And no sooner did they get established than we had a crisis-pregnancy center propose to move into a location immediately next door. They already had half a dozen locations in our area, but it had to be here, this new one, right smack next door. They insisted that the law be changed on zoning to allow them to do it on a residential property. By a one-vote margin, the council voted to send it to my desk.

He went on to insinuate that allowing WCC to locate next door would lead to women being traumatized, despite the fact that there has never been an instance of violence or confrontation at a single WCC location.

In the end, though, the moral of his story wasn’t about the abortion clinic or the Women’s Care Center; instead, it was a tale of his own heroism. He was, he assured his audience, “under extraordinary pressure to sign off on changing the law to facilitate the crisis-pregnancy center,” because according to him, WCC supporters “were among some of the most powerful and popular people in the community.”

“It was a lonely day in the mayor’s office,” Buttigieg lamented. “But it was very clear what to do. I got out the veto pen and did the right thing.”

But was it really the right thing? Each WCC location offers free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, counseling, referrals for prenatal care, parenting classes, and children’s clothing, diapers, and toys, serving 26,000 women annually. As of April, more than 16,000 babies during the previous year had been saved from abortion at the Women’s Care Center.

His veto wasn’t right for women and families in South Bend. But it was the right thing, surely, for his political aspirations. And his choice to use the incident as a stump-speech anecdote catering to NARAL’s voters reveals that he issued that veto caring much less about the fate of women in his city than he did about how his decision would affect his political fate.

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