On Friday, abortion-rights activist and former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Kate Michelman announced that she'll be backing former Sen. John Edwards in his bid for the presidency. The news was pretty widely anticipated -- last week, the Wall Street Journal observed (subscription required) that Michelman was expected to back Edwards in the race -- but it's still something of an upset, since, as the Associated Press noted, "Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton [is] poised to become the first major female presidential candidate in history."
Explaining her decision to support Edwards, Michelman said, "He has never backed down or retreated from a woman's right to choose, and he understands women's role in society. And he knows that most Americans in poverty are women and children." The "backed down or retreated" bit sounds rather like a dig at Clinton, who raised plenty of liberal ire when she called for "common ground" between abortion-rights advocates and their foes, praised "teen celibacy" and called abortion "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women" on Jan. 24, 2005 -- the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Michelman can't be indifferent to the difficulty of discussing the problems around abortion without lending stigma to the procedure; in 1993, when discussing NARAL's position on the country's high abortion rate with the Philadelphia Inquirer, she was recorded (subscription required) as having said "we think abortion is a bad thing," though at the time she said she was misquoted. But with so many experienced politicos on the field for 2008, the competition for support from key lobbying groups and high-profile people is likely to be stiff, and it'll be interesting to see how Clinton's move to the center has helped or hurt her in that regard.
On the issue of supporting women candidates simply because they're women, Michelman has been pretty unambiguous; last year, she told Rebecca Traister that Clinton, "along with every other candidate who aspires to this nomination, has to earn the women's vote." In announcing her support for Edwards, she reaffirmed that stance: "I made my assessment based on factors other than gender. Gender's important, but it's not the only factor," she told the AP. And if it comes to deciding between a woman candidate and a candidate who's unwavering in support of women's rights, we tend to agree.