Lynch edges away from his ‘pro-life’ label

Congressman Stephen Lynch says he will renounce his “pro-life” label if the term becomes defined by the slew of measures passed by state legislatures to severely restrict or eliminate abortions.

It is a subtle step in a debate with life and death implications that has been raging across the country as part of what Lynch suggested is “purely political strategy to energize and motivate the religious right.”

The “pro-life” label hasn’t precisely defined the South Boston Democrat’s position for a while, and his views have adapted over the years. In an opinion article in Friday’s Boston Globe, where he announced his allegiance shift, Lynch wrote that his views on abortion have “never fit neatly on a bumper sticker,” but he always described himself as pro-life.

In the ongoing debate over when and how and why women can terminate pregnancies, there are two opposing camps – pro-choice and pro-life. Those camps have also become more partisan, and Lynch’s inching away from the “pro-life” label follows the trend of Democrats embracing women’s power over their own medical decisions, and abandoning stances that prioritized unborn life.

Lynch himself once championed new restrictions on when a woman can have an abortion when he was in the state Legislature, and in Congress he received a 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2004 and 2006. When Lynch ran for US Senate in 2013, however, the Boston Globe noted that he had adopted more pro-choice viewpoints. Since at least 2016, Lynch has received a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The national abortion debate is expected to swiftly move from state capitols to federal courthouses to the US Supreme Court where it will run up against the historic precedent set in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that granted women access to abortion.

It is unlikely that Lynch’s recent contribution will have much impact on the national discussion, but locally there are potential electoral implications. The South Boston pol is heading toward a Democratic primary rematch in 2020 against Brianna Wu, a computer programmer who earned notoriety and faced threats of violence during the toxic “gamergate” fiasco where a group of mostly men ranted online against women in the video game industry. Wu is taking Lynch on from the progressive left, where Lynch’s old stances on abortion may lead to suspicion of him today. Lynch won the 2018 primary 71-23 but Wu has more of a head-start this time around.

On Beacon Hill, the political wave is running counter to the measures passed in Birmingham, Alabama; Jefferson City, Missouri; and Atlanta, Georgia. In Alabama, the new law, scheduled to take effect in about six months, is a near-total ban on abortion with harsh prison sentences for doctors who perform the procedure. The fate of the last remaining abortion clinic in Missouri could be decided by a judge’s ruling expected Friday.

In Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey has put her political heft behind the ROE Act, which aims to ease access to abortion. When Lynch was a state lawmaker, the Globe noted in 2013, he led efforts to ban abortion after 24 weeks. The ROE Act would allow for abortions after 24 weeks in the case of fatal fetal anomalies. Gov. Charlie Baker, a pro-choice Republican, opposes the ROE Act. Jim Lyons, the chairman of the state Republican party, goes farther, contending the bill would legalize “infanticide.”

While it has become more marked by a partisan split, the lines aren’t so neatly drawn on the abortion debate. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a restrictive abortion measure into law on Thursday.

For generations the legal right to take the wrenching step of terminating a pregnancy has been secured by the precedent set by the Supreme Court, which can only be overturned by that court itself or by a constitutional amendment. Now that legal foundation is showing some cracks. Some fear and others eagerly anticipate that President Donald Trump’s two appointments to the nine-member panel – Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh –could prove the deciding factor in overturning Roe or hollowing it out through more narrow rulings.



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