On abortion: Any signs of real change out there?

Olsen's article is mainly just worthless spin. He ignores key facts and misrepresents the implications of others. 1. The undeniable global trend of the past several decades has been to reduce legal restrictions on abortion, not increase them. There is no sign that this trend is reversing. A broad legal right to abortion now exists in almost all the industrialized democracries, and countries where abortion is still severely restricted are under increasing pressure to ease those laws. ... Posted by: Fred | August 22, 2004 03:57

I have been working on a late catch-up post on the Deal Hudson crisis. But as I continue to work on that, along with my column for this week and the opening week of classes here at the university, let me jump in and add a few thoughts on Doug's post from this weekend, focusing on trends related to abortion.

Interesting questions raised. Here are a few comments and questions of my own:

* I agree that it might be too strong to call recent abortion-debate trends the best news opponents of abortion "have heard in years." I would not go that far. I have major doubts. Nevertheless, I would request some specifics from those who see increasing support for abortion rights -- just as I hope those who oppose abortion rights would also quote specifics (or point to where we might find them).

Olsen does give interesting links to follow and to criticize. Good for him. I would like to see more from both sides. It is one thing to disagree with one another. It is something else to disagree and quote a source and some specifics. Anyone want to offer a few URLs?

* It still seems to me that the nation is in pretty much the same shape as portrayed by James Davison Hunter in the poll-data chapter of "Before the Shooting Begins" -- strong cores of 15 percent or so who are clearly pro-abortion-rights or anti-abortion, sandwiching a large majority that talks pro-life (or variations thereof) but does not favor political action.

* If there has been a change, it is the one that sounded alarm bells at Planned Parenthood last year -- a sign of weakening support for legalized abortion among young Americans. For specifics, click HERE.

I have ticked off some of my fellow pro-lifers by saying that I doubt those numbers, in part because that would seem to run against the growing cultural trend toward relativism/individualism on moral issues. If there has been a move toward a more traditional stance on abortion, it has merely pushed the nation back towards a more painfully divided situation.

* While we are at it, it helps to note that this discussion is not always a matter of "left" and "right" if we are talking about politics (as opposed to moral theology). The dominant political wind of our age is not left or right, but Libertarian, especially on moral issues. Remember that President Clinton betrayed labor unions, but never the lifestyle left. Meanwhile, the GOP is trying frantically to remind the mushy middle that its big tent contains few moral absolutes.

The party of moral absolutes these days is the Democratic Party, when the issue is abortion. It is absolutely certain that the abortion-rights stance is morally correct. Check out the changed language in the last two party platforms. Note especially the conscience clause in the 2000 text.

The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of ability to pay. We believe it is a fundamental constitutional liberty that individual Americans -- not government -- can best take responsibility for making the most difficult and intensely personal decisions regarding reproduction. This year's Supreme Court rulings show to us all that eliminating a woman's right to choose is only one justice away. That's why the stakes in this election are as high as ever.

Our goal is to make abortion less necessary and more rare, not more difficult and more dangerous. We support contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive family life education, and policies that support healthy childbearing. The abortion rate is dropping. Now we must continue to support efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, and we call on all Americans to take personal responsibility to meet this important goal.

The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.

I had to edit that some for length. Please see the full text. Now, here is the only abortion material in the 2004 platform.

We will defend the dignity of all Americans against those who would undermine it. Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that choice. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Note the lack of a conscience clause -- will the GOP have one this time around? -- and the statement, in effect, that anyone opposed to abortion is automatically backing the Republican Party. Those are fighting words to many, many old-coalition Democrats.

You may have seen that Zogby recently had a poll showing that 43 percent of registered Democrats say they are opposed to abortion (while not saying what they would do to stop it). Meanwhile, the Boston Globe found a mere 2 percent of delegates to the Democratic convention who were opposed to abortion. The convention was not a very big tent on cultural issues.

* One final comment. As a media professor, I constantly remind my students that we live in a culture dominated by two things -- images and emotions. Call it Oprah America.

My hunch is that recent technological trends are making more Americans -- journalists even -- nervous about abortion as they look at stunning images of unborn children. These images create strong feelings. These feelings may even show up in poll data. These figures may offer hope to those who oppose abortion and fray nerves among those who support abortion rights.

But does any of that equal political change? Or is it just another sign of a painfully divided culture?

I am not even sure that the race for the White House will yield much new information on this. Tune in for a reality check, as soon as there is an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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