Abortion, the Supreme Court, and the Long Game

I’ve already written today about the mendacity of Mitt Romney’s comment that legislation restricting abortion rights wasn’t part of “his agenda,” and wondered whether any of his anti-choicer allies would either push him for an immoderate clarification or give him cover.

So far what we’ve got is Rick Perry on CBS:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn’t worried about his former primary rival’s reluctance to push legislation restricting abortion rights, saying on Wednesday that he’s confident Mitt Romney will appoint “constitutionalists” to the Supreme Court.

“I think the Supreme Court is where that issue will be decided, from the standpoint of how America’s going — We’ll have a Supreme Court decision, and that’s where the focus will be,” Perry said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “He’s said very clearly that he’s going to put people who are constitutionalists on the Supreme Court.”

Now it’s never been any secret that the “long game” of the anti-choice movement, and the foundation of its alliance with the GOP, has been the slow transformation of the Supreme Court into one that would reverse Roe v. Wade and fully re-politicize abortion policy. With probably four votes already on the Court for doing just that, and with a likely mini-exodus from SCOTUS over the next four years (four Justices are septuagenarians, and Justice Ginsburg, who has a history of health problems, turns 80 next March), that great gettin’-up-morning for the RTL folks is much closer than ever before.

But the last two years have represented a period of intense legislative activity by anti-choicers, mostly at the state level, but also in the U.S. House–more productive, from their point-of-view, than the earlier period when they were whipping largely symbolic “partial-birth abortion” bans through Congress and many state legislatures. If Romney is elected with a Republican-controlled Congress, there’s no reason this key element of the GOP coalition will stand by quietly as everyone else goes crazy with its long-pent-up demands. And Mitt, to put it mildly, is not a trusted figure with this crowd.

The question is whether anti-choicers want to complicate Mitt’s life with renewed demands for a fresh display of fidelity, or will seek either private assurances or just assume they can easily overcome his alleged reluctance to support legislative activism after November 6.

It’s hard to say if Perry is speaking at this point for the Romney campaign or for serious anti-abortion activists. If it’s the former, then you’d think Team Mitt would get someone out there of truly unimpeachable credentials like Santorum or Bachmann to blow the dog whistle and reassure the troops. If it’s the latter, Mitt may have gotten a nice assist in pretending to “move to the center,” though as Perry reminds us, anti-choicers are confident Romney would not dare betray them on appointments to the Court.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.