Chris Matthews and guests Gloria Borger and Cynthia Tucker misrepresented Democrats on the issue of abortion. Borger described Sen. Hillary Clinton's remarks on making abortion “safe, legal, and rare” as “transparent” political posturing, despite her having made a very similar statement in 1999; Tucker said President Clinton did nothing to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” despite a declining national abortion rate throughout his presidency.
NBC's Chris Matthews, along with two guests on the December 11 edition of his syndicated program, The Chris Matthews Show, made a series of false or misleading statements regarding Democrats and the issue of abortion. First, CBS News contributor and U.S. News & World Report contributing editor Gloria Borger described Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) assertion that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” -- a view that Clinton has long expressed -- as a “transparent” effort to recover the so-called “values vote” that Borger and Matthews claimed Democrats lost in the 2004 election. Next, Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, misrepresented former President Bill Clinton's record on abortion: When pressed by Matthews about former President Clinton's record, Tucker said that Bill Clinton “didn't do anything” to fulfill his pledge to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare,” even though the national abortion rate declined throughout Clinton's presidency, aided in significant part by actions taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under Clinton.
Contrary to Borger's suggestion that Hillary Clinton's recent statement represented a shift in her abortion rhetoric, Clinton has for years expressed her view that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Leading into the discussion, Matthews played a clip of Hillary Clinton addressing the Democratic Leadership Council on July 25, where she said, “We can support a woman's right to choose that makes abortion safe, legal, and rare, and reduces the number of abortions.” Far from representing a point of departure from earlier statements, Sen. Clinton's remarks in July are consistent with those she made on January 22, 1999, while still First Lady. During a speech at a National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL, now NARAL Pro-Choice America) function marking the 30th anniversary of the organization and the 26th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, she said: “But all too often, generally because of the loudest voices, the American people don't hear explained the efforts that we're engaged in to continue to work with people from all different walks of life to make abortion safe, legal, and rare.”
Moreover, contrary to Matthews and Borger's claim that “values voters” shaped the 2004 presidential election, as Media Matters for America has documented, that conclusion -- widely echoed in the media -- was initially based on exit polling that relied on a vague definition of values and its relation to the ballot; a post-election poll largely ignored by the media showed that “values” tied for fourth place as “the most important problem facing this country today.”
Tucker then joined the conversation, noting that despite the perception that Republicans welcome a more diverse constituency of opinion on the issue of abortion than do Democrats, President Clinton called for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare “as early as 1992.” Matthews then pressed Tucker, asking, “What did he do during eight years as president to carry out that promise?” Tucker replied, “He didn't do anything, and Democrats haven't done much since then.”
In fact, the national abortion rate decreased by 13 percent during President Clinton's first term and decreased an additional 5 percent during his second, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization focused on sexual and reproductive health. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that increased access to emergency contraception accounted for up to 43 percent of the decline in abortions from 1994 to 2000. During Clinton's tenure, the FDA approved two emergency contraception medications -- Preven, a combination of estrogen and progestin, in 1998 and Plan B, a steroid called levonorgestrel, in 1999. In addition, in 1997, the FDA approved a regimen of common birth control pills for use as emergency contraceptives.
From the December 11 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Democrats lost by three and a half million votes in 2004, many of them values voters. Can changing their line on abortion help win over those voters in 2008? Here is leading candidate Hillary Clinton and [Democratic National Committee] party chairman Howard Dean, both softening their positions.
[begin video clip]
MATTHEWS [clip]: The Democrats -- your party is a pro-choice party.
HOWARD DEAN: My -- no. My party respects everybody's views, but my party firmly believes that the government should stay out of people's personal lives.
[end video clip]
HILLARY CLINTON [clip]: We can support a woman's right to choose that makes abortion safe, legal, and rare, and reduces the number of abortions.
MATTHEWS: You're shaking your head, Gloria. Is this P.R.? Is this -- what is this?
BORGER: Oh my god. This is transparent.
MATTHEWS: What is this? Are they changing their position or just talking something different?
BORGER: You know, they're fighting the last election. They thought they lost the values vote in the last election and you always fight the last election. And I think the Democratic Party has had a problem since 1992 when they did not allow the Pennsylvania governor, Bob Casey, who happened to be pro-life, to speak at the Democratic convention. At that moment, the Democratic Party narrowed its tent and it has never been able to expand it.
MATTHEWS: Well said.
TUCKER: Somehow, the Democrats allowed the Republicans to seem the big-tent party, mostly because of that issue. But let's remember that --
MATTHEWS: Are there more pro-choice Republicans than pro-life Democrats?
TUCKER: I think there probably are. There are an awful lot of suburban Republican women who are pro-choice.
MATTHEWS: That's the key to what you are saying.
TUCKER: However, let's remember that as early as 1992, Bill Clinton said abortion ought to be safe, legal, and rare. That is an imminently sensible position.
MATTHEWS: But what did he do about it in eight years?
TUCKER: Well, he was denounced by both sides.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, but what did he do during eight years as president to carry out that promise?
TUCKER: He didn't do anything, and Democrats haven't done much since then. But I think it is good for the country if Democrats rein back a little and are not as absolutist on abortion.