|Will the ‘pro-life resurgence’ affect the outcome of November’s elections? Shutterstock|
If history remembers James Carville for nothing else, Bill Clinton’s former political advisor will undoubtedly be recalled for summing up the big issue of the 1992 presidential campaign in a single frenzied sentence: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
And — leaving 1992 aside — if there ever was a year when Carville’s summary fit the national political scene, it’s 2012. Barring a crisis in Iran or a major disaster, natural or man-made, economic issues that include high unemployment and sluggish growth seem virtually certain to be at the top of American voters’ agenda in November.
Yet even so, it’s hardly less certain that advocacy groups concerned with issues from foreign affairs to the environment will play important roles — in fact, depending on circumstances, possibly decisive ones — in this election. Nearly 40 years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States, that’s notably so for a significantly re-energized pro-life movement.
People for whom abortion is the most important issue in determining how they vote historically have made up less than 10 percent of the total electorate. As a result of the present dominance of economic issues, that percentage probably is lower now. But within that select group, pro-lifers significantly outnumber abortion backers. What that means in practical terms is in certain circumstances surrounding a close election, determined pro-lifers could decide the result.
“In 2011 alone, 24 states have enacted 52 new restrictions on abortion. Five now require an ultrasound before an abortion, two insisting that the screen be viewable by the mother. Four bar abortions after the baby is able to feel pain (at approximately 20 weeks). Eight have opted out of Obamacare. Five ban abortions by webcam (in which a doctor, not in person but videoconferencing with the mother, prescribes pills to induce abortion). Six trimmed or eliminated funds for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. Texas led with a $64 million cut. ...
“Three pro-life trends have spiked in 2011. The first is the rise in opposition to abortion among young people. ... Millennials haven’t grown more religious, politically conservative, or queasy about gay rights. Nor do they go out of their way to vote for pro-life candidates. But they tend to see abortion as a human rights violation. Thus their resistance to abortion is gradually increasing. ...
“The second trend is the explosive growth of refuges for pregnant but unmarried women. ... Today there are nearly three times as many of these centers (2,300) as abortion facilities (800 to 850).
“Trend number three: the rejuvenation of old pro-life groups and the sprouting of new ones [like Students for Life, with 637 chapters].”
— Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, in a Nov. 7 column on “the unheralded gains of the pro-life movement.”
It goes without saying this doesn’t bode well for President Barack Obama, who in the last three years has earned his reputation as the most pro-abortion president in history. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the two leading contenders for the Republican nomination at the time this is being written, both hold pro-life positions.
Dramatizing Obama’s vulnerability not just among pro-lifers but among voters in general, satisfaction with the way the country is headed at this point in his presidency had fallen in one recent poll to 11 percent, lower even than Jimmy Carter’s 19 percent and far below George W. Bush’s 44 percent.
But in a year-end Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama’s overall approval rating had inched up to just a shade under 50 percent. Meanwhile, of course, the Republicans have serious vulnerabilities of their own. The near-certainty about the polls is that the numbers for all the candidates will go up and will go down — possibly many times — between now and November.
In any case, administration support for abortion under Obama has been aggressive and unapologetic.
Supreme Court focus
In these three years, government funding of abortion providers has been greatly expanded at home and abroad. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed guidelines for the new federal health care program (“Obamacare”) that would require Church-related institutions with few exceptions to include coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients in employee health plans. The regulations set off a firestorm of protest from Catholic groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Whoever is elected president in November, the biggest abortion-related issue at the national level in the next four years could be the selection of one or more new Supreme Court justices. The court’s membership now is closely divided between pro-life and pro-choice justices. Depending on who steps down and who replaces him or her, a new justice or justices could tip the balance either way.
President Obama is committed to naming supporters of Roe v. Wade. His two choices so far — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are thought to fit that description.
But the Supreme Court soon may face other abortion-related questions besides whether to uphold Roe. During the Obama years, new pro-life laws have been enacted in states across the country, and some could come before the high court.
While predictably ignoring the pro-life upsurge in states, secular media trumpeted the defeat by Mississippi voters last November of a proposed amendment to the state constitution declaring that human personhood begins at “fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” But the amendment — regarded as problematical or even opposed by many pro-life leaders who are convinced the Supreme Court would overturn it if it were enacted — is only a small part of what’s been happening.
By one count, last year alone 52 new restrictions on abortion were adopted in 24 states. They include requiring an ultrasound test before an abortion, barring abortion after the baby becomes able to feel pain (about 20 weeks), and cutting or eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. Obama, speaking in November to the banquet of a pro-abortion group called the National Women’s Law Center, once again affirmed his support for funding Planned Parenthood.
Pro-life journalist Fred Barnes calls these enactments signs of “the resurgence of the pro-life crusade.” Writing in The Weekly Standard, a conservative political journal of which he’s executive editor, Barnes attributed pro-life success largely to advances in ultrasound technology that make the reality of unborn human life clearer than ever and to a striking shift in attitudes toward abortion among the young.
People under 30 were the most pro-abortion group in the country in the 1970s and second most pro-abortion in the 1980s and 1990s, but now, Barnes wrote, “they’re markedly less pro-choice than any other age group.”
As this suggests, it isn’t just the outcome of races for the presidency and Congress that will matter for the pro-life cause. If Barnes is correct, results in state-level contests could be equally or even more important.
Russell Shaw is an OSV contributing editor.