Columns » John Brummett

Beebe’s choice cut

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Among my spats with the Asa Hutchinson campaign has been the matter of what Mike Beebe says on abortion.

Hutchinson’s people once asserted on their infamous campaign blog that I’d reported that Beebe says different things to different audiences on a woman’s choice. I have done no such thing. I have no knowledge of any such thing.

I call Beebe’s position classically pro-choice. But Asa’s campaign says Beebe won’t agree to that because he wants to be sufficiently evasive so that he can tell different things to different audiences.

Beebe tells me he has a single abortion position that he’ll gladly relate. It’s true that he doesn’t call it pro-choice. He says I can call it what I want and that Asa can do as he pleases as well. But he insists he will not concede to someone else’s labeling.

I’ll say this: I’ve never seen anybody, not even Mark Pryor, cut the abortion issue more fine than Beebe.

His position is sliced into so many pieces that it would seem easy enough for him to hand out only those he considers palatable to his audience, whether it be Tim Wooldridge Democrats, meaning religious conservatives, or traditional liberals.

The only way to get to the bottom of it would be to accompany Beebe to a fundraiser in a private home in the Heights section of Little Rock, then to a fish fry in Paragould, and to pop the question at each venue.

I’d told one of Asa’s operatives that, when given the opportunity, I’d ask Beebe directly the most basic of questions: Are you pro-choice?

The opportunity came last week. I asked Beebe, “Are you pro-choice.”

“I don’t use that terminology,” he said.

I told him that I’d reported that his position was pro-choice.

“Is it?” Beebe replied, as if to be genuinely curious. “To me pro-choice means abortion on demand, and I’m not for that.”

As on the gay foster-parent issue, Beebe uses “constitutional” as a dodge and crutch on abortion.

He says he personally opposes abortion. He says he supports restrictions on abortion — such as on late-term abortions and with parental notification or even consent — so long as they are constitutional. But some restrictions will always be constitutional, of course, so long as the precedent of Roe v. Wade survives. Beebe says he’d like it to survive, although he hastens to assert that the ruling has been so contorted by subsequent cases over the years that it bears little resemblance to its original form. The allowances for abortion that he favors, Beebe says, are rape, incest and not only to save the woman’s life, but in deference to a doctor’s concern for the woman’s health. Sometimes, he says, the matter must come down to the woman, her doctor and her god.

Are you dizzy? Don’t be. He’s pro-choice, whether he says so or not.

What make him so? Three things: Not wanting to repeal Roe, wanting to leave the decision in some cases to a woman, her doctor and her god, and permitting an exception for a doctor’s judgment about the woman’s health.

That latter point — whether a woman’s life must be legitimately threatened to allow an abortion, or whether her doctor can cite her health and permit one — is pretty much what the abortion issue has come down to these days.

Beebe is correct that it’s not so much Roe v. Wade itself anymore, but the extent to which courts will permit states to restrict it.

This issue is not as simple as it once was. But it’s still simpler than Beebe lets on.

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