Pollitt, Katha, The Nation
As chairman of the fifty-nine-member Congressional Progressive Caucus and potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been quite visible lately. At a time when few Democrats are daring to question the war aims of the Bush Administration--or even to ask what they are--Kucinich has spoken eloquently against the Patriot Act, the ongoing military buildup and the vague and apparently horizonless "war on terrorism." From tax cuts for the rich and the death penalty (against) to national health insurance and the environment (for), Kucinich has the right liberal positions. Michael Moore, who likes to rib progressives for favoring white wine and brie over hot dogs and beer, would surely approve of Kucinich's man-of-the-people persona--he's actually a New Age-ish vegan, but his website has a page devoted to "Polka, Bowling and Kielbasa."
One thing you won't find on Kucinich's website, though, is any mention of his opposition to abortion rights. In his two terms in Congress, he has quietly amassed an anti-choice voting record of Henry Hyde-like proportions. He supported Bush's reinstatement of the gag rule for recipients of US family planning funds abroad. He supported the Child Custody Protection Act, which prohibits anyone but a parent from taking a teenage girl across state lines for an abortion. He voted for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a crime, distinct from assault on a pregnant woman, to cause the injury or death of a fetus. He voted against funding research on RU-486. He voted for a ban on dilation and extraction (so-called partial-birth) abortions without a maternal health exception. He even voted against contraception coverage in health insurance plans for federal workers--a huge work force of some 2.6 million people (and yes, for many of them, Viagra is covered). Where reasonable constitutional objections could be raised--the lack of a health exception in partial-birth bans clearly violates Roe v. Wade, as the Supreme Court ruled in Stenberg v. Carhart--Kucinich did not raise them; where competing principles could be invoked--freedom of speech for foreign health organizations--he did not bring them up. He was a co-sponsor of the House bill outlawing all forms of human cloning, even for research purposes, and he opposes embryonic stem cell research. His anti-choice dedication has earned him a 95 percent position rating from the National Right to Life Committee, versus 10 percent from Planned Parenthood and 0 percent from NARAL.
When I spoke with Kucinich by phone, he seemed to be looking for a way to put some space between himself and his record. "I believe life begins at conception"--Kucinich was raised as a Catholic--"and that it doesn't end at birth." He said he favored neither a Human Life Amendment that would constitutionally protect "life" from the moment of conception, nor the overturning of Roe v. Wade (when asked by Planned Parenthood in 1996 whether he supported the substance of Roe, however, he told them he did not). He spoke of his wish to see abortion made rare by providing women with more social supports and better healthcare, by requiring more responsibility from men and so on. …