As we mark the tragic January 22nd anniversary date of the infamous Roe v. Wade abortion decision, here’s a straight-up take on the “new” political message swirling around some liberal political and religious circles.
We invite you to post your comments!
Do you support commonsense laws like parental consent for minors getting abortions, as in Pennsylvania’s law? Did you know that the federal ‘Freedom of Choice Act’ (FOCA) would overturn PA’s abortion law (and that President Obama promised to sign it)?
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The abortion debate used to be simple. “Pro-life” people opposed abortion and “pro-choice” meant you support abortion rights. So how have we reached the point where many voices, apparently including our new president, claim the best way to reduce abortion is to permit it?
As documented by sociologist Anne Hendershott, this long and unfortunate story of clever marketing and political compromise began in the 1960s when a number of prominent Catholic Democrats, including some in the Kennedy family, were persuaded to drop their opposition to legalizing abortion. The Catholic Church in America, while holding fast to its pro-life policy statements, sometimes overlooked these deviations, either to avoid divisive internal debate or because its leaders felt these Democrats’ other social policies would, on balance, tend to advance the greater good.
Unfortunately, similar political compromise can be said of some within the civil rights community. A prime example is Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was outspokenly pro-life (calling abortion “black genocide”) only to completely reverse his position when he decided to seek the 1984 Democratic Presidential nomination.
It’s no accident that as prominent leaders such as Jesse Jackson emerged as spokesmen, a historical commitment to seeking justice for innocent human life all but disappeared. Again, political support for government social programs trumped opposition to abortion. The result: Sadly, black women are more than five times as likely as white women to have an abortion; an estimated 16 million aborted since 1973 (according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute).
By the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s famous mantra of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare” created a connection between the goals of making abortion available everywhere and less frequently used. Few demanded that Clinton explain how these two apparently contradictory goals were compatible, nor did he make much effort to pursue abortion reduction seriously.
Meanwhile, liberal religious leaders challenged their conservative brethren to quit fighting Roe v. Wade and instead do something “constructive” like supporting government social programs for those in need. Conservatives rightly responded that they are already doing plenty — their nationwide movement of volunteer-based pregnancy care centers has given more practical aid to women in need than any liberal organization or government welfare program.
Fast forward to the 2008 presidential campaign, with another Democrat saying he wants to reduce abortion while promising Planned Parenthood that he would make it a high priority to sign a federal law (the Freedom of Choice Act) that would eliminate all state restrictions on abortion.
Once again, prominent religious leaders—this time two evangelicals with liberal social views — gave him cover. Tony Campolo claims to have played a part in framing the Democratic Party platform’s abortion plank and says it has made the party “committed to abortion reduction.” Jim Wallis of the Washington, D.C. Sojourners community said that “with the right economic and social supports, fewer women will choose abortions. … That’s a more effective way of dealing with the issue than trying to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Some social supports may indeed cause fewer women to choose abortion. But does that mean we should accept the virtually unlimited access to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade? Is there any logical connection between supporting Roe and reducing abortion?
Regardless of what you think about government social programs, if you truly want to reduce abortions you should support restrictions on abortion, not wipe them out with a “Freedom of Choice Act.”
Michael New, a professor at the University of Alabama, has looked closely at that question. Dr. New notes that 36 states, including Pennsylvania, have parental notification or consent laws that restrict teenagers’ access to abortion. He searched for evidence on the impact of these laws and found that the best case study appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2006.
This peer-reviewed study analyzed the Texas parental-notification law that took effect in 2000. The authors found that the law resulted in statistically significant declines in the abortion rate in Texas among 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds, and 17-year-olds.
Bottom line: Commonsense, pro-life laws — such as Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act — help to achieve the public policy goal of reducing the number of abortions. And most Americans seem to agree on this point: less of abortion is in society’s best interest.
If we truly think abortions are tragic and we want to reduce the number, we need more commonsense abortion laws in place, not less. And let’s leave tax-funded government’s health, education and welfare programs to be debated on their own merits.
Thomas J. Shaheen is Vice President for Policy at the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Harrisburg, Pa.