by Thomas Valentine
For the first time in a long time, Democrat candidates for president are being seriously challenged — by both sides — about their positions on abortion.
Abortion has long been a sacred cow of the Left. There has not been a serious pro-life Democrat to run for president in decades, so support for abortion has been a given for the party’s presidential contenders. The extent of the debate has mostly been relegated to clichés like “safe, legal, and rare” and “between a woman and her doctor,” and Democrats have generally not gone into detail on their positions, unwilling to call attention to the ugly truth that Roe v. Wade allows unrestricted abortion up until the moment of birth, subject to minor restrictions by the states.
But now that a potential anti-Roe majority is on the Supreme Court — which is questionable, given Kavanaugh’s spotty record on the issue and Roberts’ shift to the left — the Left has been awakened on the abortion issue. Democrat-controlled legislatures have been pushing to loosen and eliminate abortion restrictions in the event Roe is overturned.
At the same time, the always-vigilant pro-life movement has kicked into high gear. The Reproductive Health Act in New York to remove virtually all meaningful restrictions on abortion enraged pro-lifers, and a failed bill in Virginia which supporters explicitly described as allowing abortion until birth and possibly allowing infanticide caught the attention of Americans across the country. As a result, both sides are paying close attention to the abortion issue, and it’s being raised early and often in the primary process. Voters are asking about it, and even the media occasionally broaches the subject.
And Democrat candidates are volunteering their support for late-term abortion. Kamala Harris, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and other candidates have all felt the need to explicitly voice their endorsement of abortion even at the latest stages of pregnancy.
Opinion polling on abortion tends to marginally favor the “pro-choice” side when the issue is not in the public view. When it’s not being talked about, people don’t have to examine it in detail. But when pro-lifers are able to call attention to what abortion actually is, they gain support.
For example, every major shift in Gallup’s annual pro-choice versus pro-life poll has coincided with some piece of legislation or a change in political power. President Bill Clinton’s veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act resulted in a sharp drop in support for the pro-choice position in Gallup opinion polling, from over 50 percent in 1996 before the veto to 47 percent in 1997 after the veto. Pro-life and pro-choice were tied at 47 percent when President George W. Bush took office in 2001 and implemented several pro-life policies. However, pro-choice took a 51 percent to 41 percent lead in 2006 after Democrats retook control of Congress. Pro-life then took a 51 percent majority for the first time in 2009 after President Barack Obama took office and went to work stripping away restrictions on abortion. Pro-choice and pro-life traded back and forth during the Obama years, with pro-life taking another 50 percent majority after Obama was re-elected in 2012. Then, pro-choice reopened a slight lead after the election of President Donald Trump.
In addition, Marist took a poll this January showing pro-choice with a 55 percent to 38 percent lead. But just a month later in February, it was tied at 47 percent. Americans were uncomfortable with the push for unlimited abortion and registered their distaste.
What’s the point of all these numbers? As long as abortion is at or near the forefront of the public discussion, it loses, because Americans are forced to really think about the issue. So if Democrats keep talking about abortion and their support for keeping it legal until the moment of birth, the pro-life side is poised to continue to win converts.
Photo credit: Victoria Pickering via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0