November 30, 2009

60-40 NATION:

The Abortion Distortion: Just how pro-choice is America, really? (Jennifer Senior, Nov 29, 2009, New York)

Was Stupak’s truly the minority view?

According to a Gallup poll from July, 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be either illegal or “legal only in a few circumstances.” Only seventeen states pay for the procedure for poor women beyond the standards of the 1977 Hyde Amendment—meaning if the woman’s life is in danger or she’s been the victim of rape or incest. Just two months before the health-care bill’s passage in the House, a Rasmussen poll found that 48 percent of the public didn’t want abortion covered in any government-subsidized health plan, while just 13 percent did. (Thirty-two percent believed in a “neutral” approach—though what on Earth that means is hard to say.)

“I knew even some pro-choice people would vote with us,” says Stupak. “This wasn’t like opposing RU-486 or parental consent.”

To really understand the House vote on abortion, one ought not look just at Bart Stupak. As the Democratic co-chair of the pro-life caucus in Congress, he was bound to have strong feelings on the subject. More representative, perhaps, of the kind of supporter he attracted in Congress was David Obey—chairman of the Appropriations Committee and, with some exceptions, a committed Wisconsin progressive. He votes for expanding money to Pell Grants, Head Start, and stem-cell research. He was an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and voted against a Republican-proposed ban on gay adoptions in the District of Columbia. It just so happens that he takes the pro-life doctrine of his faith quite seriously. “I agree with my church,” he wrote in a national Catholic weekly in 2004, “that abortion in most cases is wrong.”

“Because there’s a Democratic majority in Congress and the president is pro-choice,” says Nancy Keenan, the current director of NARAL, “it sometimes gets lost how truly numerically challenged we are.” That’s especially true for people in New York City, where access to abortion is plentiful and unconstrained. But it’s a very ambivalent pro-choice nation we live in. The idea that a bunch of pro-life rogue wingnuts have hijacked the agenda and thwarted the national will is a convenient, but fanciful, belief. Even with an 81-person margin in the House, and even with a passionately committed female, pro-choice Speaker, it was the Democrats who managed to pass a bill that, arguably, would restrict access to abortion more aggressively than any state measure or legal case since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 30, 2009 7:07 AM
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