Looks like this is going to be another election where some on the far left threaten to stay home on election day—if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee—because they see no difference between the two parties. I don’t expect that very many people will actually do this (even in 2000, Ralph Nader received less than 3% of the popular vote). Of course, even a small number of votes can swing the election (as we saw in 2000). I understand the impulse on the far left to reject a Democratic Party that has rejected or failed to enact many of their preferred policies. But staying home on Election Day or casting a symbolic vote for a third party only makes sense if you don’t care about women’s reproductive rights.
Roe v. Wade is a 5-4 case right now. If Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retires—or one of the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents leaves the Court—a Republican president will appoint a justice who will flip the balance and overturn Roe v. Wade. Maybe none of those five justices leave in the next four years. Maybe they do. Either way, overturning Roe v. Wade is just one way a Republican president can attack reproductive rights.
A Republican president will certainly reinstate the Global Gag Rule that prohibits U.S. foreign aid from supporting organizations that provide abortion services or advocate for legal abortion in their country, even though the U.S. funding supports other services provided by those organizations, such as family planning. The Global Gag Rule is kind of like an extreme version of defunding Planned Parenthood (which a Republican President would also do). Every Republican president since Reagan has imposed the Global Gag Rule, and every Democratic president since Clinton has rescinded it.
I don’t mean to imply that women’s reproductive rights are the only difference between Democrats and Republicans. I choose this example because the differences are stark and undeniable. The Republican Congress also just passed legislation to repeal large parts of the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood, which was vetoed by President Obama. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would have taken health insurance from 22 million Americans. This was passed in Congress via reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority in the Senate. A Republican president would sign this into law.
My point is that even if you believe there is no meaningful distinction between Democrats and Republicans on things like the Middle East, financial regulation, or money in politics—and I think there are significant differences here too—there is certainly a very real difference on women’s reproductive rights. If anyone advocates staying home on Election Day or casting a symbolic vote, they need to explain why the reproductive rights of women don’t matter.
Update (1/15/16): I changed the title of this post to something less accusatory towards progressives who are inclined to stay home in November or vote for a third party if Clinton is the nominee. People can disagree in good faith and still care deeply about women (my initial title said otherwise), but I would encourage progressives inclined to reject a Democratic candidate to think hard about where that strategy leaves women’s reproductive rights in the next four years and beyond.
I also want to be clear that this is not about which candidate to vote for in the primary. This is looking ahead to a possible general election scenario.