- NOVEMBER 11, 2008
After making significant gains during the Bush administration, the anti-abortion movement was dealt sharp setbacks in last week's election with the defeat of three state ballot measures restricting abortion.
Now, strategists are debating whether the way forward should be based on confrontation or cooperation with the incoming Democratic administration.
Hard-liners say they cannot compromise on their goal of criminalizing the roughly 1.2 million abortions in the
But others fear their cause has lost its urgency as a defining issue for many voters of faith, replaced by opposition to gay marriage. In contrast to the defeated anti-abortion measures, three states passed bans on same-sex marriage last week.
With state courts continually resetting the rules, gay marriage feels more fresh and urgent to voters than abortion, which has settled into a status quo that polls show a large number of Americans can accept. The issue may also have lost potency as the abortion rate has steadily declined. In the early 1980s, nearly 1 in 3 pregnant women chose abortion. That's now down to about 1 in 5.
"It could be we're at a tipping point in this culture," said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Ignoring the obvious will not help."
President-elect Barack Obama and other Democrats have promised to work to make abortion rare, so long as it remains legal. "Maybe it's time to take them up on the offer" instead of "bashing our heads over and over again against the same wall," writes Paul Strand, a blogger for the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, an influential megachurch pastor in
Both sides have also worked hard to frame abortion as a women's health issue -- to conservatives, it's a danger, to liberals, it's a fundamental right. That, too, has stripped the debate of some of its moral and religious overtones.
Dr. Hunter and others advocating a truce in the abortion wars call for federal programs to reduce the abortion rate by promoting adoption and more counseling, as well as day-care subsidies, health coverage and other aid to women.
But such an approach draws fire from hard-core activists on both sides. The left fears it could be coercive, or stigmatize those who choose to abort. They'd prefer that the government focus on sex education and access to contraception to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The right, meanwhile, says working to reduce the number of abortions misses the point: "It's like saying, 'Let's work to make sure they kill fewer Jews in the concentration camps this year,"' said the Rev. Mark Dever, a pastor in
Any emerging cooperation could also be torpedoed, anti-abortion activists warn, if Mr. Obama follows through on his campaign pledge to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. In draft form, the act asserts abortion as a "fundamental right," and says no government can "interfere with a woman's right to choose." That would give pro-choice activists legal grounds to challenge every restriction states have put in place over three decades, from parental notification to waiting periods to mandatory counseling.
Abortion-rights groups say they'd like to see the bill enacted, but that it's not a top priority in an era when tensions at last seem to be easing.
"Folks want to get back to solving problems, not creating divisions," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.
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