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Political Confessional: I Think Democrats Should Compromise On Abortion To Win Votes

Welcome to Political Confessional, a column about the views that Americans are scared to share with their friends and neighbors. If you have a political belief that you’re willing to share with us, fill out this form — we might get in touch.

This week, we spoke with Chris, a 28-year old black man living in Texas who works in media. Chris originally wrote: “I think Democrats should actively pursue a European-style equilibrium/compromise on abortion: first trimester abortions are state subsidized and easy to obtain, everything else is pretty restrictive and hard to access.” The position was controversial, Chris said, because: “I’m a guy and I’m never going to have to choose about abortion, so I should probably shut up about it. And finally because, listen, I’m a queer black man. I don’t want my interests as part of this coalition to get sold out or compromised on. So who am I to try to sell out or compromise women’s interests in this coalition?”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Clare Malone: Tell me your thought process on this position. How did you get to it?

Chris: I think it’s mostly because I grew up in Texas in a very conservative, super pro-life school with a lot of people who were very aggressively — and it seemed to me sincerely — pro-life. I went to college in New York and actually talked to people and learned some things and said, ‘Oh, no, actually that position is dumb and if you read books, including the bible, the whole idea that life begins at conception is not really supported by anything.’ And I learned that many embryos don’t actually implant in the womb, so the entire premise of the hard core pro-life position doesn’t make any sense.

But I guess I just always had the memory that this is one issue where at least some of the people on the right were arguing in good faith and not just like, ‘No, we don’t like women.’ It seemed like, OK, they’re negotiating in good faith and perhaps there are people who care about other people and, in part, base their political positions on caring about other people. Perhaps they would be more inclined to move to the left if it were not for this one issue that they see as a major moral sticking point.

CM: Would you call yourself pro-life or pro-choice?

Chris: Definitely would call myself pro-choice.

CM: Do you talk with people in Texas about abortion?

I do. I have one good friend who grew up in a very conservative environment and then moved left. He’s one of those people who are really pro-life but the GOP is so terrible he just decided to compromise on that position and go ahead and join the Democrats, despite the fact that he doesn’t like that one policy position.

CM: Your talk about coalition building was what caught my eye. Who are you hoping to win back with this compromise?

Chris: In theory, I think a lot about the people I grew up with.

CM: What are the demographics of the people you grew up with?

Chris: It was upper-middle-class white people in a ritzy suburb of Dallas, which is where I was in school. They seemed like sweet people and I understand that some of them were voting because they are, lord knows, racist and sexist and xenophobic and all that. I guess I’m thinking about whether there’s a viable distinction between socially conservative and culturally conservative voters. I’m thinking about social conservative voters.

CM: When you’re thinking about ways to win back those people you grew up with, are you thinking that Democrats should soften on identity politics issues?

Chris: I think that Democrats should actually not let up on identity politics, but rather address more of the identities, including some of the identity groups that we think of as dominant. That includes explicitly talking about white people’s interests and Christians’ interests and men’s interests — consciously talking about everyone’s identity politics. Saying, ‘OK, well we want men in our group and here’s some issues that men are concerned about and here are some issues that white people are concerned about — and here is how we’re going to make sure that we still respect some of these cultural totems, whatever they are. And here are the ways we’re going to try to respect those even as we try to make material conditions better for other groups of people.’

CM: Do you think that would create tension in the Democratic Party, saying here’s white identity and here are the issues we’re going to attach to it, and here’s black identity and here are the issues we’re going to attach to it? What happens if the two come to loggerheads?

Chris: I think that’s the whole point. That’s the tension that’s already in the Democratic coalition. It’s not like there’s not a whole lot of white people and even culturally conservative white people who still vote for Democrats. So I think it’s making the tension explicit rather than letting it simmer in the background until someone offers racial resentment to white people.

CM: So everyone should be more frank, basically?

Chris: Yes. More frank, more direct and also with the intention of trying to prove that Democrats are on the side of people who a lot of people don’t think they’re on the side of.

CM: Have you talked about this compromise position on first trimester abortions with anyone yet?

Chris: Not really, and I know I probably should. It’s something that I wish was in the policy discourse. But, no, I don’t bring it up. It’s not really my place. I’m not a woman. I don’t necessarily want a bunch of white people to be over here like, ‘The compromise that is popular is for the president to say [former NFL quarterback Colin] Kaepernick is bad but give funding for housing for black people.’ That would be a compromise that would be fairly popular but I would totally roll my eyes at some white person telling me that.

CM: Are there other issues that you as a black man, a queer person, would be OK with compromise on?

Chris: I’m less upset about the whole bakers won’t bake cakes for gay weddings thing than a lot of people are. And I think you need protections and I understand it as a slippery slope type thing. But if they don’t want to bake cakes …

CM: How would you answer the argument that most women get their abortions in the first trimester, and many second trimester abortions happen because a fetus is non-viable or there are medical problems?

Chris: I think my cynical answer is that that’s kind of the point of the policy [Chris proposes]. If you make a situation where you’re protecting most of the abortions that are happening anyway in exchange for regulating a much smaller number of abortions, I think in a lot of ways you would end up with a better solution for women in red states who already have their abortions regulated to an absurd degree.

CM: Are you personally uncomfortable with second trimester abortion?

Chris: I want to say ‘no.’ Like, if my friend told me she had an abortion and she was six months into her pregnancy, I would say, ‘I’m so sorry that happened.’ Most people don’t like getting abortions. I’d like to think that if I could get pregnant I wouldn’t get an abortion in the second or third trimester unless it was like, I’m going to die or the baby’s going to die — I’d like to think that personally.

But the whole point is I’m never going to make that choice personally. If I didn’t realize I was pregnant, and maybe there were a bunch of hoops to jump through because I live in Texas, and I couldn’t get to the abortion clinic until I was six months pregnant — I have no idea what choice I would make. So yeah, I think I am a little squeamish about it.

CM: How often have you talked to women about abortion on a personal decision level?

Chris: Almost never! I’ve had a lot of political conversations about abortion. Surely some of my friends have had abortions but we’ve never talked about it.

CM: How would you respond to people who will read this and say, ‘this person is a minority, a person who identifies as queer, how could he be so unsympathetic in his politics to people who are concerned about the regulation of their personage?’

Chris: I’m giving the most boring answers but the answer is that I don’t have an answer for you! The whole reason I hold this position is not because I hold a moral opinion. It’s not because I think that, morally speaking, anyone should have an opinion on what a woman does with her uterus ever. But you’re always willing to compromise on an issue when you know people who agree on nine things out of 10 but No. 10 is their sticking point. I think there are a lot of people where their No. 10 sticking point is gay marriage, their sticking point is NFL protests and a bunch of other issues I do care about …

CM: But you’d be willing to compromise on them too?

Chris: If there was a real benefit then yeah, but I wouldn’t be happy about it. I would be like, ‘this is disgusting,’ but I would also be like, ‘This is politics and you compromise on the right thing to get a better thing than you would have gotten otherwise.’

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.