You may need to sit down before you read this post. I would like to briefly discuss an article in the New York Times about abortion and the political career and thought of President Barack Obama. The headline: "On Abortion, Obama Is Drawn Into Debate He Hoped to Avoid."
I want to praise this article. It features two strong points of view and a collection of interesting, informed voices.
Honest. Feel free to read it. The whole idea is a familiar one: Obama has tried to change how America talks about abortion, while basically leaving the pro-abortion-rights legal regime precisely where is has been for a generation, which is solidly to the left of, well, France or Sweden. He has tried, through warm tones and expressions of good will, to end the "culture wars" era, without making any compromises on the actual policies.
But now, two things -- the University of Notre Dame war inside Catholicism and the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court -- have shaken that dream. Reality is returning, the reality that reminds political leaders that some principled Americans -- on left and right -- care fiercely about abortion and the masses in the middle want compromise, which is very hard to do in terms of law and politics.
To make matters more complex, the pros at the Gallup organization are released a poll claiming that 51 percent of Americans now call themselves "pro-life," vs. 42 percent "pro-choice."
In that context, read this chunk of the Times report:
Mr. Obama frames his position on abortion as a nuanced one -- he calls it a "a moral and ethical issue" best left to women and doctors -- and he envisions himself forging consensus around causes like reducing unintended pregnancies and promoting adoption. As he said in a 2007 speech to Planned Parenthood, "Culture wars are so '90s."
As president, Mr. Obama, who during the campaign answered a question about when human life begins by saying it was "above my pay grade," has tried to straddle the abortion divide. He has done so partly by reaching out to religious conservatives, partly by avoiding the most contentious legislative battles and partly by reversing the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, a faithful ally of abortion opponents, in piecemeal fashion -- all while the nation has been consumed by the economic crisis.
That's part of the equation. But here comes the other half:
He has named abortion rights advocates to top jobs; Dawn Johnsen, a former legal director of Naral Pro-Choice America, is his pick to run the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. He has repealed the so-called Mexico City rule, which prohibited tax dollars from going to organizations that provide abortions overseas; lifted Mr. Bush's limits on embryonic stem cell research; stripped financing for abstinence-only sex education; and is seeking to undo a last-minute Bush regulation giving broad protections to health providers who refuse to take part in abortions.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she told allies that their movement was emerging from "eight years in the wilderness."
But will Obama deliver the Freedom of Choice Act or not?
Will be actually be able to offer any compromises that offend the true believers on either side?
And the Times just keeps coming, in this story, with punchy clusters of facts that resemble the muddled middle that is American reality.
Polls show that the American public is deeply conflicted over abortion and that support has declined steadily over the years. In 1995, roughly 60 percent of Americans believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Last month, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, that number stood at 46 percent. A Gallup survey that examined seven decisions early in Mr. Obama's presidency found that the least popular was the one to overturn the ban on sending tax dollars to organizations that provide abortions overseas.
This story will make lots of people a little bit glad, or a little bit mad, or very uneasy or all of the above.
That's a good thing. RIght now, that's reality.