A grand bargain to save the planet and call truce in the abortion war

Do Democratic reformers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez really believe in an existential threat from climate change or is a 10-week limit on abortion the real end of the world for them?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., third from right, speaks to reporters as she walks out of the Senate Chamber following two failed votes on ending the partial government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(RNS) — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the face of the new freshman class in the House (and of the new direction of a significant younger segment of the Democratic Party) is very good at getting in the news cycle. Quite an accomplishment given the competition in the age of Trump.

Take her recent appearance on Steven Colbert’s show, in which she provocatively insisted that the “world is going to end in 12 years” because of climate change — shorthand for an existential threat that will lead to mass death of the vulnerable who don’t have the resources to adapt to a changing climate.

This looming catastrophe has compelled Ocasio-Cortez, in part because of the demands of her serious Catholic faith, to act dramatically. She is leading the charge for what is being called a “Green New Deal.” According to reporting from Vox, though the details “remain to be worked out,” she is proposing a “massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy.” And many Democrats are following her lead.

But the only way Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal gets done is either if Republicans currently in power in the Senate get on board or Democrats somehow manage to win the presidency and a 60-vote majority in the Senate. (A Democratic president could also declare a state of emergency, I suppose, and do it by executive order, but our republic might not survive such a decision — especially after Democrats rightly criticized Trump for proposing this strategy for building a border wall.)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks during the Women’s March Alliance, on Jan. 19, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Given that Democrats need to make up a whopping 12 seats, the “take the Senate” scenario isn’t likely. Filibuster-proof majorities in the Senate are incredibly rare, and Democrats already find themselves at a structural disadvantage.

That leaves option one. With only 12 years left, it’s time for a grand bargain to save the planet. But what could Democrats give Republicans that is weighty enough?

Legal protections for prenatal children. Though Republican leadership is bad at making abortion a priority, it is at the heart of the GOP grassroots — or what is left of the Republican Party. Millions held their nose and voted for Trump primarily because they wanted pro-life judges on the Supreme Court.

The pro-life movement continues to be the most effective Republican “get out the vote” machine, but activists are constantly and rightly frustrated the party doesn’t make them a priority. “Why is all the emphasis on the border?” asked Live Action’s Lila Rose at this year’s March for Life. “We should build a wall between taxpayer funds and the biggest abortion company that’s killing 900 children a day.”

So here’s a proposal: Democrats get a Green New Deal in exchange for a law that mirrors Portugal’s abortion policy. Under a law passed in 2007, Portugal bans the procedure after 10 weeks (with significant exceptions) and requires a three-day waiting period.

Anti-abortion activists march toward the U.S. Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

This law has not produced the deaths that abortion activists warned us about. Indeed, Portugal has significantly better maternal mortality rates than the United States.

Democrats may balk at this proposal, but the current pro-life majority of the Supreme Court could well create law that is even more restrictive — for which they would get nothing. Plus, it would take the political wind out of pro-life sails for years, as most Americans would think that they got more than enough. It may even be the beginning of the end of the abortion wars, which have disproportionately helped the GOP.

Republicans (though many are quite eco-friendly) could also balk. But there is almost no legislative chance for a dramatic change to U.S. abortion policy without some kind of grand bargain. My proposal would test just how important pro-life priorities are for GOP leadership. Do they care more about neoliberal economics or about justice under law for prenatal children?

It would also test just how strongly Democrats believe that climate change is on the verge of causing catastrophe. If the lives of millions hang in the balance, adopting Portugal’s abortion policy ought to be an easy decision. Does Democratic leadership really believe in an existential threat from climate change or is a 10-week limit on abortion the real end of the world for them?

And finally, for a Catholic like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, getting behind this proposal would be a wonderful reflection of the fullness of her faith. It would signal an end to stale, binary political categories and assumptions of the 1970s and point toward a genuinely creative and hopeful political future.

Charles C. Camosy is on the board of Democrats for Life and author of the forthcoming book Resisting Throwaway Culture.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.

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