From New Oxford Review:
Much hay has been made of late over what appear to be significant gains made by the pro-life movement in the ongoing culture wars. Reports over the past year have hinted at a shift in American attitudes regarding the polarizing topic of abortion: American attitudes appear to be trending away from the pro-abortion pole and toward the pro-life pole.
Early this year, Russell Shaw wrote in Our Sunday Visitor of the “significantly re-energized pro-life movement,” noting that “last year alone 52 new restrictions on abortion were adopted in 24 states” (Jan. 15). Shaw cited Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, who hailed “the resurgence of the pro-life crusade,” and offered the “growth of refuges for pregnant but unmarried women,” the “rise in opposition to abortion among young people,” and the “rejuvenation of old pro-life groups and the sprouting of new ones” as evidence for his enthusiasm (Nov. 7, 2011).
Then, to the delight of many, a Gallup report was released this May that seemed to confirm — and quantify — the pro-life movement’s positive momentum. Entering the summer’s presidential campaign season, confidence among pro-lifers was peaking, and the pro-choicers were put on the defensive.
The most widely reported aspect of the Gallup report was that more Americans now identify as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” A full 50 percent of the respondents to the Gallup survey claim to be pro-life — a five percent increase over the 2008 figure. Furthermore, only 41 percent of respondents consider themselves pro-choice — an eight percent drop since 2008. Oddly, 2008 was the year that America elected Barack Obama, the man now known in pro-life circles as “the most pro-abortion President in U.S. history.” Has his administration’s abortion advocacy caused a backlash among the citizenry? We’ll find out come November.
The 2012 Gallup figures represent an even more dramatic swing since the Clinton-era days of 1995, when 56 percent of respondents self-identified as pro-choice, versus a meager 33 percent who self-identified as pro-life. From this wider perspective, the tide truly does appear to be turning.
The Gallup survey also shows that Americans generally favor hedging in the abortion industry with what Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, calls “commonsense limits” — parental-notification laws, limiting the amount of tax money that goes to fund abortions, restricting abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy, etc. “A growing number of Americans,” Yoest told the Catholic News Agency (May 24), “are uneasy with the unfettered, under-regulated and unsavory abortion industry as it exists today.”
Be that as it may, the Gallup survey also made clear that most Americans are not willing to do away with the abortion industry entirely. Whereas Americans are trending pro-life where external labels are concerned, the fact is that there has been very little change in their fundamental attitudes toward the legality of abortion. Gallup reports that a mere 20 percent of respondents said that abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances.” This group was bested by five percentage points by those who said that abortion should be “legal in all circumstances.” These 2012 figures are virtually identical to those from 2008.
The discrepancy between the number of Americans who identify as pro-life (50 percent) and those who believe abortion should be outlawed (20 percent) wasn’t lost on the pro-choice camp. Kaili Joy Gray, writing for the liberal flagship blog Daily Kos (May 23), was quick to point out that these numbers “should be identical.” Indeed. “Someone who identifies as ‘pro-life,’” she reasoned, “supposedly thinks abortion is immoral and should be illegal in all circumstances.” Yes, supposedly. There is a major disconnect in assuming a certain identity without truly adhering to its imperatives — i.e., in claiming to be pro-life without actually thinking that abortion should be outlawed. “That doesn’t make them ‘pro-life,’” charges Ms. Gray. “That makes them hypocrites.”
Ouch! That’s hard-fisted, but hardly unfounded.
What we are witnessing isn’t so much a growing pro-life trend in America as it is the growing misunderstanding of what it means to be pro-life. Ms. Gray is on target in saying that to be pro-life is to want abortion outlawed. She is wide of the mark, however, when she calls the new pro-lifers hypocrites. We suspect that they’ve been attracted to the label by a movement that has focused its energy on winning minor concessions and limited restrictions rather than aggressively pursuing an outright, nationwide ban on the murder of unborn babies.
Indicative of the dilution of the sense of what it means to be pro-life, 52 percent of respondents to the Gallup survey said that abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances.” Among those circumstances, 82 percent think abortion should be legal “when the woman’s physical health is endangered.” More troubling, 61 percent think that abortion should be legal “when the woman’s mental health is endangered.” Certainly any woman who seeks an abortion could plausibly claim that not getting what she wants would throw her into a severe bout of depression.
Frankly, these aren’t exceptions any genuine pro-lifer would support.
Perhaps we’ve reached the point where Bill Clinton could be hailed as a pro-life prophet for envisioning the day when abortion in America would be “safe, legal, and rare.” How absurd would that have seemed in 1995? Yet, based on a generous reading of the Gallup survey results, that would seem to be a reasonable goal to the new “pro-life” Americans — pro-lifers for whom the term has been emptied of its true meaning.
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