Hillary Clinton and "moral values"

By Tim Grieve

Published January 25, 2005 7:36PM (EST)

There's a lot of reason to doubt that "moral values" were the Election Day trigger that the press has made them out to be, but those doubts aren't stopping Democrats from moving to the middle -- or beyond -- on social issues that religious conservatives hold dear.

First Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi encouraged an anti-abortion red-stater, former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, to run for the DNC chairmanship. Now Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to be stepping at least a little to the right. Last week in Boston, on the night before George W. Bush's second inauguration, Clinton delivered a speech in which she lauded the role of religious faith in public life and seemed to offer at least some kind of support for Bush's faith-based initiatives. Arguing that there is a "false division" between faith-based programs and the religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, Clinton said, "There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles."

On Monday in Albany, in a speech tied to the 32nd anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, Clinton called on activists on both sides of the abortion debate to seek "common ground" and work together to reduce unwanted pregnancies. While Clinton didn't signal any change in her views about the legality of abortion, she called the practice a "sad, even tragic choice for many, many women." In arguing that the number of abortions should be reduced, Clinton advocated sex education -- including abstinence education, a favorite of the Christian right -- and said that "research shows that that the primary reason teenage girls abstain from early sexual activity is because of their religious and moral values." (Clinton didn't mention other research showing that teens who take abstinence pledges are less likely than other teens to use contraception when they do have sex.)

Clinton's middle-ground approach on abortion and family planning appears to have satisfied no one except the Democratic Leadership Council, which said her comments put her in line with most Americans' "yes, but" or "no, but" views about abortion. Pro-choice activists are grumbling, and Tony Perkins, head of the anti-abortion Family Research Council, told the Times that Clinton's words contradict a voting record as "defective" as "Planned Parenthood's condoms."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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