April 2, 2009


Life Support: Why Democrats aren't rushing to overturn Bush's abortion restrictions. (Jon A. Shields, March 2, 2009, New Republic)

In 2007, Barack Obama promised Planned Parenthood that "the first thing I would do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), which would overturn federal and state restrictions on abortion, including the ban on partial-birth abortion. But not a single member of Congress has introduced the bill yet. Its original sponsor in previous sessions of Congress, Jerold Nadler of New York, said "it won't be [introduced] anytime soon," a spokesman told Time, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has indicated she has no plan to raise the issue. Even pro-choice organizations are not aggressively pushing for it: A new report prepared by abortion-rights groups that outlines the steps the Obama administration should take in its first 100 days makes clear that passing FOCA is not a top "priority." [...]

The controversy over partial-birth abortion was a tremendous boon to the pro-life movement, as shown by Berkeley professor Cynthia Gorney in her extensive study of the issue. While the movement never succeeded in getting actual images of aborted embryos in mainstream media outlets, it did manage to get them to publish "the cartoonish line drawings" of the partial-birth abortion procedure. Such renderings, according to Gorney, were "gruesome, but not gory, which proved to be a critical distinction."

These images not only sensitized the public to the resemblance of aborted fetuses to newborns after the first trimester, they also exposed the scope of Roe v. Wade and its companion decisions. Americans have long imagined that our abortion laws are relatively restrictive and therefore in step with their ambivalent sentiments. Yet the pictures of well-developed fetuses with their skulls pierced with scissors made it hard to entertain the notion that Roe places tight limits on access to abortion. Abortion-rights activists, meanwhile, confronted the almost-impossible task of defending something that appeared shockingly like infanticide. This is why James Wagoner, the executive vice-president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, described the partial-birth abortion conflict as "a disaster" for the pro-choice movement.

Though it is difficult to empirically prove a direct causal relationship between the debate over partial-birth abortions and changes in public opinion, many political scientists contend that the controversy had an affect. "The effort by pro-lifers to ban partial-birth abortion during the 1990s resulted in some small, but resilient, changes in public opinion," said Michael New, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama. "In particular, noticeably fewer Americans support abortion on demand." Though the change is slight, it is nonetheless significant given the fact that abortion attitudes have been remarkably stable (pdf) since the early 1970s, and should have been trending in a pro-choice direction given the growing secularity of American culture.

Other survey evidence corroborates New's conclusions. Political scientists Clyde Wilcox and Patrick Carr find that 18-29 year olds are suddenly "less pro-choice than any age group," despite the fact that they are both less religious and socially conservative than older Americans. Wilcox and Carr conclude that young people's newfound pro-life sentiment may be because political controversy during their formative years "focused largely on popular restrictions on abortion, such as a ban on partial-birth abortion."

Now that the ban on partial-birth abortion is the law of the land, the controversy that was most effective in stirring pro-life sentiment has died--to the great relief of pro-choice advocates.

It's not that the UR won't appoint a pro-abortion justice if he gets the opportunity, but it will be someone who doesn't have writings that will sound barbaric to decent people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2009 8:27 PM
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