Life in the Marketplace of Ideas
Turning the Tide in the Abortion Struggle
Editor's Note: This is the second from the author in a series on abortion (see the first here), and is published as a part of a symposium hosted by Patheos' Catholic Portal and Evangelical Portal, entitled, "For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism."
Changes in the culture often precede and even compel changes in the law. Amongst the younger generations of Americans today, the cultural moment for the fight against abortion has come again.
For decades, the warring camps in America's long battle over abortion have appeared to be locked in a stalemate. Roe v. Wade established the legality of abortion on demand in 1973, and the last abortion-related case to reach the Supreme Court (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) came in 1992. Those who favor abortion "rights" have occupied the center of the battleground while the pro-life ranks have fought around the margins in skirmishes over waiting-periods, consent laws, born-alive protections, and gruesome but rare procedures like partial-birth abortion.
It has seemed impossible that Roe should be overturned. The political and cultural forces marshaled on the side of abortion "rights" have long seemed insurmountable. Surveys throughout the 1980s and 1990s consistently showed a mainstream national media staunchly in support of Roe. A 1995 survey of media elite found that 97 percent agreed (84 percent strongly) that "it is a woman's right to decide whether or not to have an abortion."
Given what we know of more recent media voting patterns, it's unlikely this has changed substantially. The entertainment and academic establishments, with all their cultural influence over young people, are also staunchly pro-choice. And of course the Democratic Party, funded and fortified by a broad network of special-interest groups, is so irrevocably committed to legalized abortion that it nominated the most pro-choice President in American history, refused in its party platform to endorse the goal of making abortions "rare," and recently would have driven the government into shutdown rather than take federal funding away from Planned Parenthood, which performs roughly a quarter of the abortions in America.
And yet, against all odds, Americans are becoming more pro-life. In 1995, when the Gallup organization first began asking Americans how they identified themselves, 56 percent called themselves pro-choice and only 33 percent pro-life. In the past decade and a half, those numbers have dramatically reversed. In May of 2009, for the first time in the history of the poll, more Americans (51 percent) identified as pro-life than pro-choice (42 percent). Some suggested it was an anomaly, so Gallup asked the same question two months later and found a 47 to 46 percent division in favor of pro-lifers. It remained the case that more Americans identified as pro-life (47 percent to 45 percent) in May 2010.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.