When the history of the 21st century is written, March 21, 2010, will go down as the day Congress cleared the way for health-care reform. Yet for those in the abortion-rights community, March 21 will mark a completely different turning point: the day when they became acutely aware of their waning influence in Washington. The Democratic Party has, since 1980, supported a woman's right to an abortion. But in 2008 it decided to broaden its appeal by running an unprecedented number of anti-abortion-rights candidates in socially conservative swing districts. That move helped secure a robust House majority for the Democrats.
But abortion-rights supporters could no longer count on that majority to vote their way. The shift first became clear during the health-care debate, when abortion-rights supporters found their cause rather easily brushed aside in pursuit of another, larger goal. Anti-abortion Democrats, most notably the now retiring Rep. Bart Stupak, pressed for stringent abortion restrictions. While Stupak's desired language did not ultimately survive, the final health-care law was more than a psychological setback: it requires separate payments for abortion coverage on the public exchange. The strict accounting rules could well prove so onerous that insurers drop abortion coverage altogether.