I usually cringe anytime I see an article about abortion politics appear in a mainstream media outlet. However, in “Understanding America’s Shift on Abortion” on Time.com, Nancy Gibbs writes a fair-minded article about why the pro-life movement has enjoyed some recent gains in public opinion. Gibbs makes a good point that the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy does not accurately capture the nuanced views that many Americans hold about abortion. That having been said, she is correct that both improvements in ultrasound technology and pro-life emphasis on broadly supported incremental legislation have led to some tangible gains in public support for the pro-life position. In fact, in her article, Gibbs should have explicitly mentioned the debate over the partial-birth abortion ban in the mid 1990s as the event which started shifting public opinion in a more pro-life direction.
However, I disagree strongly with Gibbs’s assertion that President Obama “isn’t interested in the culture war.” Since taking office, President Obama’s actions have indicated that he is shrewd, not disinterested. With regard to same-sex marriage, he probably senses that public opinion is becoming more sympathetic toward gay rights. As such, he does not want to pursue policies that would provoke a backlash. With regard to pro-life issues, President Obama was quick to rescind the Mexico City Policy which prevents U.S. foreign aid from going organizations that perform abortions. President Obama also loosened federal regulations on the funding of embryonic stem-cell research. In short, he has sought to change policy on those pro-life issues that are obscure, somewhat difficult to understand, and unlikely to cost him support among moderate voters. Furthermore, even though President Obama has said that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) is not a top priority, it is certainly possible that elements of FOCA could be enacted in a piecemeal fashion, or as part of health-care reform. Pro-lifers, as always, would do well to be vigilant.
– Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.