My kids love to hear stories about when they were born. They know the quirky details—that Penny was easy to push out, that I threw up on the way to the hospital with William, that they celebrated Marilee's birth in the hospital with cupcakes. They have a very faint idea that giving birth is precarious and difficult, but they know nothing of the sorrow of miscarriage or the feeling of crisis surrounding an unintended pregnancy. The word abortion has not entered their vocabulary, and I hope I can keep it that way for a while.
Abortion seems not to have made it into the vocabulary of our Presidential candidates either. Over one million fetuses are aborted every year in America, and nearly 1/3 of American women have had or will have an abortion. A recent Gallup poll indicates that a slim majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life, while 42 percent self-identify as pro-choice. I don't talk about abortion with my kids, but the reality of abortion impacts the lives of women and children in America on a day-to-day basis.
Only 25 percent of respondents to that same Gallup poll stated that they think abortion should be legal in all circumstances, which implies that 75 percent of the nation opposes abortion in some cases. At the same time, since the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade nearly 40 years ago, it has become increasingly unlikely that the Court will overturn women's legal access to abortion services. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts called Roe v. Wade established precedent. And even if the court were to overturn the ruling, many states would keep abortion legal.
So let's assume for a moment that abortion is here to stay and that the vast majority of the American public believes it should be restricted in some sense. The same Gallup poll indicates that Republicans and Democrats have held steady on their views about abortion over the past decade. But independents have fluctuated, with 47 percent now identifying themselves as pro-life (vs. 30 percent in 2001) and 41percent as pro-choice (down from 56 percent in 2001). Obama or Romney could employ a practical approach to abortion reduction as a way to attract swing voters.
Romney's website sidesteps the economic and social realities of abortion. On his page about Values, the site reads, "in the quiet of conscience, people of both political parties know that more than a million abortions a year cannot be squared with the good heart of America." And yet the response to what it calls the "tragic" taking of innocent life include overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing health care workers to follow their conscience. Additionally, it calls for ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood (which not only offers abortion services but also potentially helps reduce abortion through access to contraception—and Romney articulates no plan to provide prenatal care or contraception if Planned Parenthood were to lose funding). His website offers negative solutions, solutions that address the legal aspects of abortion without addressing the social and economic realities for women who face unintended pregnancies and need help.
Obama's website, as far as I can tell, sidesteps the issue of abortion altogether. In the "Get the Facts" section, he offers data on women's health, which includes contraception but no reference to abortion services. And yet on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in addition to articulating his continued support of this federal law, Obama said, "While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue—no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption." Obama has an opportunity to draw in pro-life independent voters if he is willing to reiterate this litany of pragmatic ways to address the reality of abortion in this country.
Typical liberal ideology surrounding abortion focuses on the woman's right to choose without any conversation about the ethical problems that emerge on both an individual and collective level when women choose to terminate a nascent human life. Typical conservative ideology focuses on the unborn baby's right to life without conversation about the ethical problems that emerge, again, both individually and collectively, when women face the economic, physical, and emotional hardship of unplanned pregnancies.
All the while, abortion remains legal and most Americans support some limitations on abortion, which suggests that most Americans would support policies that focused not upon eradicating abortion but upon reducing it. What might happen if a political leader tried to have a conversation about protections for woman and baby? What if Romney and Obama each proposed policy measures that addressed not the legality of abortion but its economic and social impact upon our culture?
We've argued long enough about the legality of abortion. Let's start creating policies that actually support and protect women and children. Let's look for politicians who can lead us towards a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions chosen by women each year.