On abortion: Any signs of real change out there?

GEOlsen’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.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Fred

    Here are a couple of links to studies documenting the liberalization trend of global abortion laws:

    International Developments In Abortion Law 1988-1998: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2872/is_2_26/ai_62140798

    A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997: http://www.crlp.org/pub_art_abortionlaws.html

    “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.”

    Where is the evidence that ultrasound imaging is having this effect? I have seen this “hunch” expressed several times by pro-lifers, but it seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.

    As I said in response to Doug LeBlanc’s post, where ultrasound technology clearly has made a difference to abortion is in China and India, and its effect in those countries has been to promote abortion, not to suppress it. In Chinese and Indian cultures, male children tend to be valued much more highly than female children. The advent of cheap ultrasound imaging has allowed millions of Chinese and Indian women to determine the sex of their fetus, and has thus facilitated sex-selection abortions. We know that such abortions have been occurring on a massive scale in China and India because of the gross imbalance in the number of male and female children found in census data. Why is this not a disaster for the pro-life movement?

    And focusing again on the U.S., what about IVF? Twenty five years ago, it didn’t exist. Today, tens of thousands of American women a year undergo the procedure. Each IVF treatment typically involves several “cycles,” and in each cycle one or more “surplus” embryos are created and then either discarded, frozen or donated to medical research. Every year, in the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of embryos are created by IVF treatments and then either destroyed or frozen. With the spread of IVF, this number may soon exceed the number of induced abortions. If the pro-life movement is fundamentally about protecting embryonic human life, why is this not also a disaster for the pro-life movement?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I have no idea how one would test the thesis of the impact of prenatal imaging technology on the attitudes of people toward abortion — which is why I qualified the statement two or three times.

    But basic media theory, in this day and age, takes the power of visual images very seriously. IF, and I stress if, there is any change in the views of the young — as shown in the Planned Parenthood data — then that would be a possible explanation to test. The plural of anecdote is not data. I know that. At the moment, this remains at the level of media theory.

    More important, in terms of real-world clout, is the LEGAL issue of insurance status for the unborn. It is hard for courts to grant the unborn legal status for prenatal procedures without, well, admiting that they are there. Long ago, Justice O’Connor — if I remember correctly — predicted that technology would continue to bring abortion back before the court again and again.

    The issue of gender-selection abortion really began to heat up with improved prenatal testing, creating the ultimate form of sexism. This is good news for pro-life feminists and awkward for pro-choice feminists. Again, technical leaps will only create more tensions there. Ditto for the all-important “viability” line, which will continue to move earlier and earlier into pregnancies.

    The pressures to spread abortion rights into other cultures will also increase, in large part carried by media and American non-profits. This is horrific to the growing churches of the Third World and we will hear more protests from them, as well as from a wide spectrum of Muslims.

  • Fred

    The ability to determine the sex of the fetus has been generally available to pregnant women in America for 20 years. Laws that ban sex-selection abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy (when 99% of all abortions in America occur) are unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and would be unenforceable even if they were constitutional. It’s hard to see how future technical developments could signficantly alter this situation. If anything, technical advances will make sex-selection abortions, like abortions in general, even cheaper and easier than they are today.

    As for viability, it has not changed significantly for many years. Moving viability significantly earlier in pregnancy would require dramatic and costly advances in neonatal medical technology that aren’t even on the horizon. Perhaps one day there will be an effective and affordable “artificial womb,” and a procedure for safely transferring a living embryo/fetus from a woman’s uterus to that device, but don’t hold your breath.

  • Fred

    As for polling data on abortion, pro-lifers seeking to promote the “tide is turning” line tend to cherry-pick the polls that support their spin and ignore the ones that don’t, and tend to spin blips that are favorable to their view as the start of a trend, while ignoring blips that undermine their claims.

    The truth is that abortion polls are very sensitive to wording and to current events, that different polls often produce conflicting results, and that public opinion on abortion tends to fluctuate over periods of a year or two but has stayed remarkably constant over the long-term. You cannot generalize from one or two polls. You cannot look at year-to-year fluctuations and interpret them as a trend. You have to look at the totality of the data. And the totality of the data provides no credible basis for pro-life wishful thinking.

    Here is a summary of many abortion polls that illustrates the points I make above: http://www.pollingreport.com/abortion.htm

  • Matt C. Abbott

    It is obvious that, while there are perhaps a few glimmers of hope, the culture of death is still very much “alive.”

    God help us all.

  • Harris

    “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.”

    – is this not the equivalent of the pictures of the baby harp seal as a tool to “sell” environmentalism? This gives the emotional buzz, but like environmental policies, the pro-life side issues often involve the less photogenic. We talk babies but we often must wrestle with the status of frozen embryos, and the like: the unglamorous and the (sometimes) uncomifortable.

  • Joshua Cordell

    The ABORTION issue makes it clear that the term “Christian Democrat” is a misnomer.

  • thecosmopolitan

    Doesn’t Joshua’s comment come perilously close to the equation of Republicans with “God’s official party” that Doug descried in his Tuesday, August 10 posting?

  • Joshua Cordell

    By no means is God a Republican, nor is the Republican party “God’s offical party.” I would just challenge you to really look at what the word “Christian” means! It means Christ-like. Is anyone who supports abortion Christ-like? I don’t think that was what He (Jesus) meant when He said “suffer the little children to come to me.” He didn’t say “make the little children suffer.”

  • thecosmopolitan

    Joshua: I’d be interested in your response to this question from an earlier posting on the same issue:

    To put the question in your own terms, (paraphrasing Doug’s closing assertion from a previous posting)

    “Should anyone assume that when conservative evangelicals express their views on abortion, they insist that all right-believing (i.e. “real”) Christians must agree?

  • http://afterabortion.blogspot.com Emily

    “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.”

    Where is the evidence that ultrasound imaging is having this effect? I have seen this “hunch” expressed several times by pro-lifers, but it seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.

    As I said in response to Doug LeBlanc’s post, where ultrasound technology clearly has made a difference to abortion is in China and India, and its effect in those countries has been to promote abortion, not to suppress it. In Chinese and Indian cultures, male children tend to be valued much more highly than female children. The advent of cheap ultrasound imaging has allowed millions of Chinese and Indian women to determine the sex of their fetus, and has thus facilitated sex-selection abortions. We know that such abortions have been occurring on a massive scale in China and India because of the gross imbalance in the number of male and female children found in census data.

    This is an apples/oranges comparison. Chinese and Indian women don’t themselves look at the sonogram images of their unborn child. An ultrasound examination is performed, and they are then told whether it’s a girl or a boy.

  • Joshua Cordell

    Cosmo,

    The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what I think! If we are “real” Christians than we will follow the Bible, not any political position. I can’t imagine that any one with half a brain would try to argue that the Bible’s teachings are in favor of abortion.

    Do you disagree?

  • thecosmopolitan

    Unless you are of the inerrantist persuasion, the assertion that ” ‘real’ Christians follow the Bible” raises more questions than answers. No one, save the most literalist of believers, can “follow the Bible” without having to make some very selective judgements about precisely those texts they deem authoritative. Hence my original question about whether their can be real, honest and faithful disagreement between Christians regarding which is the most Christian response to a particular dilemma.

  • Joshua Cordell

    Cosmo,

    This is a good discussion. First off, I do believe the Bible to be inerrant, if you think there are errors in the Bible, could you show me one (I don’t mean that to sound bad, I’m serious.) Second my refference to those with “half a brain” was in part talking about aborted babies who have had half of their brain scraped out and are now in Heaven with Jesus and can know the Bible in it’s fullness. I’m sure that they see that abortion is not God’s plan and does not make Him happy. Would you disagree with that?

    As far as your question, in essence – can Christians disagree on big things? Of course they can. When two disagree on a moral issue is it likely that one is right and the other is wrong? I believe so.

    However Christians must agree on the fundamentals, namely the Gospel – or else they are not Christians.

    I personally have a hard time believing that someone who is pro murder of babies is in fact a Christian. It just doesn’t add up to me, how about for you?

  • Fred

    Emily writes:

    “This is an apples/oranges comparison. Chinese and Indian women don’t themselves look at the sonogram images of their unborn child. An ultrasound examination is performed, and they are then told whether it’s a girl or a boy.”

    Huh? The point is that the widespread use of ultrasound imaging has INCREASED the number of abortions in China and India. And the increase appears to be huge. Pro-lifers who think that ultrasound technology is somehow good for their cause are ignoring the facts.

  • Joshua Cordell

    Fred wrote:

    “Pro-lifers who think that ultrasound technology is somehow good for their cause are ignoring the facts.”

    Except for the fact that ultrasound technology shows just how monsterous abortion is. It may not stop person A from committing murder, but it does prove that it is murder. We can’t change man’s wicked heart, but we must show people the truth and pray that God will convict!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X