Thursday, January 17, 2013

Time Magazine Article Highlights How Pro-Life Activists Are Winning the Political Battles Over Abortion

On the set of Civil Discourse Now last Saturday, we concluded the show with an argument over abortion.  It wasn't a discussion of the merits of laws pertaining to abortion, but rather the political impact of the issues, i.e. which side is winning at the polls on the issue.

Liberals and the media always want to believe the abortion issue works for Democrats. In particular, they like to think that their are hordes of women who are so outraged by the Republicans' pro-life position on abortion that they're voting for Democrats as a result.  As I pointed out the polling shows that women are every bit as pro-life as men and that women vote for Democrats at a higher percentage because they are much more liberal on fiscal issues.   I further argued on Civil Discourse Now that the issue had been a loser at the polls for the pro-choice crowd, in particular Democrats, and that the only way they've been able to win on the issue is when they have been able to focus on the well-known exceptions such as rape, incest, threat to the life of the mother.  I also pointed out that polling suggested that people today are more pro-life than ever before.

Needless to say that my conclusions were not accepted by the more liberal members of the panel, including co-host Mark Small.

One can imagine my surprise when I picked up a Time Magazine yesterday and found a supporter of abortion rights had written a cover story that supports what I was saying about the political impact of the abortion issue.  Here are some snippets of the story titled "40 Years Ago, Abortion-rights Activists Won an Epic Victory with Roe v. Wade...They've Been Losing Ever Since":
... But while the right to have an abortion is federal law, exactly who can access the service and under what circumstances is the purview of states.   And at the state level, abortion-rights activists are unequivocally losing.

Part of the reason is that the public is siding more and more with their opponents.  Even though three-quarters of Americans believe Americans believe abortion should be legal under some or all circumstances, just 41% identified themselves as pro-choice in a Gallup survey conducted in Mayo 2012.  In this age of prenatal ultrasounds and sophisticated neonatology, a sizable majority of Americans supports abortion restrictions like waiting periods and parental-consent laws.  Pro-life activists write the legislation to set these rules.  Their pro-choice counterparts, meanwhile, have opted to stick with their longtime core message that government should not interfere at all with women's health care decision, a stance that seems tone-deaf to current reality.

Pro-choice activists' failure to adapt to the shift in public attitudes on abortion has left their cause stranded in the past says Frances Kissling, a longtime abortion-rights advocate and former president of Catholics for Choice.  Kissling is part of a small group within the pro-choice movement trying to push the cause toward more nuanced stances.  "The established pro-choice position - which essentially is" abortion should be legal, a private matter between a woman and her doctor, with no restriction or regulation beyond what is absolutely necessary to protect the woman's health - makes 50% of the population extremely uncomfortable and unwilling to associate with us.," she says.


The abortion war, like many other political fights, is largely waged on the margins of reality.  Review the policies that have stoked widespread national debate, and it's easy to assume that late-term (otherwise known as partial-birth) abortions and those performed on underage girls or women impregnated by rape or incest constitute the bulk of terminated pregnancies.  In truth, these are mere slivers of the abortion story in American.  And on the whole, there is little public disagreement on the merits of abortion in such cases.  Most Americans support access to abortion in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life is threatened, along with a raft of common state abortion restrictions.   Gallup data shows that 79% of pro-choice Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester and that 60% support 24-hour waiting periods and parental consent for minors.


The antiabortion cause has been aided by scientific advances that have complicated American attitudes about abortion.  Prenatal ultrasound, which has allowed the general public to see fetuses inside the womb and understand that they have a human shape beginning about eight weeks into pregnancy, became widespread in the 1980s, and some babies born as early as 24 weeks can now survive...."In general, the pro-choice movement leaves people with the feeling that we don't see these things as complex because the answer is almost always, We'll it's a woman's decision," says Kissling, formerly of Catholics for Choice."...

Kissling opposes the specific state laws pushed by pro-life activists but says the pro-choice movement's effort to "normalize abortion" is counterproductive.  "When people hear us say abortion is just another medical procedure, they react with shock," she says.  "Abortion is not like having your tooth pulled or having your appendix out.  It involves the termination of an early form of human life.  That deserves some gravitas."

The article is quite lengthy, but worth a read.  While the writer Kate Pickert obviously supports abortion rights, it is apparent that she understands it is a lot more complicated of an issue than the pro-choice advocates suggest that it is.

Indeed the abortion issue is complicated on both sides.  I think pro-lifers have to acknowledge that a woman's autonomy is a vitally important interest and most I believe do.  But on the pro-choice side, I think advocates need to stop denying the undeniable science fueling the increased support for the pro-life side.  Clearly abortion involves the termination of a human life.  Science has established that beyond dispute.

It is unfortunate that Roe v. Wade handed down nearly 40 years ago short-circuited the political debate over the issue of the legality of abortion.  As ugly as our political process sometimes appears to be, it is how we resolve political disputes in this country and, in the end, it works very well.  The fact that Roe v. Wade was at the very least ill-timed in cutting off the political debate on the legality of abortion is a position taken by one of the most liberal justices on the United State Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a President Clinton appointee.

I would urge people on both sides of the abortion issue to go out and buy a copy of the magazine in order to read this excellent article.  It appears that, even though it is dated January 14, 2013, there have been two newer issues come out so it might be hard to find.  It is available on-line at the Time website if you buy a subscription.


Blog Admin said...

I think abortion is unique among the several political questions that are polled in that it doesn't show a generational divide. Unlike same-sex marriage or LGBT issues in general, or the legalization of marijuana where the opponents of those are quite literally dying off and not being replaced, abortion still has largely not changed.

The problem with some polling is..well, you're dealing with people. A person can say they're "pro-life" but can believe in a whole myriad of exceptions that practically makes them pro-choice. Similarly, a pro-choice person might be pro-choice only because he or she believes in the exceptions of rape and incest, for example.

While I don't often believe that the answer is always in the middle, I think in this specific situation, the American public has mixed opinions.

Gallup polling shows only 20% believe abortion should be illegal, period, but 50% identify as pro-life. that means there's a huge chunk of people who self-identify as pro-life but believe abortion should remain legal.

Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...

I agree there is no generational divide on abortion issue. The polls show younger people are more pro-life than older people, but it's only by a marginal amount. The thing that really pushes people in the pro-life direction is getting married and having children.

I counsel my friends who advocate for same sex marriage to not hitch their wagon to the pro-choice crowd. The polling dynamics on the same sex marriage issue are moving dramatically in favor of it while the abortion issue is actually trending (slightly) away from the pro choice position.

Roe v. Wade led to a polarization of the two camps on the issue. I think there would have been meeting in the middle. No one would have been happy that is for sure. My guess is that if Roe were repealed and abortion were left to the state legislature, it would be allowed for the first 2-3 months and banned thereafter except for health reasons. There would likely be other things adopted like parental consent and spouse notification. Other states would have different rules and I would be fine with that. That is what federalism is about.

Indy Rob said...

To quote a Stephen King character "Life is cheap, abortion makes it cheaper.".

I am not in favour of making abortion illegal, but the number of abortions annually (over 1 million according to the CDC), makes me wonder what can be done to discourage women for finding themselves in a situation where an abortion seems like a solution. One size does not fit all, but a large percentage of women getting abortions are not pregnant as a result of sexual assault or have health conditions that preclude having a baby.

I'd like to know what Planned Parenthood (or any other abortion provider) does for post-abortion consulting, in terms of helping these women deal with the emotional consequences of having an abortion as well as possibly discussing making better choices in the future. I'd also like to see an honest dialogue about reducing the number of abortions, decreasing or eliminating government funding of abortions, and a general reduction in the amount of noise coming from either end of the political spectrum.

BTW, Planned Parenthood, accounts for about 350,000 abortions per year. Between a quarter and a third of the US abortions.