Avik Roy’s and Ashley McGuire’s discussion about the future of abortion politics has been insightful. However, I still think that Roy is being unnecessarily yielding and pessimistic. This is for three reasons. First, Roy cites a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll to make the case that opposition to abortion is weakening. However, a closer look at the data shows that only in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll did support for legal abortion significantly increase. It is possible that this one survey could be a statistical outlier. Indeed, data from other survey research firms including Rasmussen, Gallup, and Marist have all shown fairly stable abortion attitudes during the past five years. In fact, data from both Rasmussen and Marist indicated that abortion attitudes remained similar throughout the 2012 election cycle. In short, the “war on women” rhetoric and the statements by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did little to change overall public attitudes toward abortion
Second, pro-life candidates do not need to allow for exceptions to be successful. Of course, poorly worded statements by U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock received almost non-stop attention from the mainstream media during the 2012 election cycle. However, countless media pundits have ignored the fact that there were statewide candidates who were pro-life without exception and were successful in 2012. These candidates were able to handle difficult questions about their abortion stance in a more politically shrewd manner. Pro-life groups frequently disagree about whether it is prudentially wise to support candidates who allow for exceptions. However, there exists evidence that pro-life candidates do not need to support exceptions in order to be electorally successful.
Third, Roy makes a good point that Republicans and pro-lifers could sometimes do more strategically to include moderates as part of the “pro-life” coalition. I do not think, though, that Democrats have always been effective at claiming the middle ground on abortion. “Safe, legal, and rare” was certainly an effective campaign slogan for Bill Clinton when he ran for president in 1992. However, in 1995 Republicans took the middle ground away from Democrats by raising the issue of partial-birth abortion. The widespread public attention given to this gruesome practice shifted public opinion in a more pro-life direction. Furthermore, the fact that many Democrats voted against the partial-birth-abortion ban, demonstrated the extreme position espoused by President Clinton and many Democratic officeholders. In the current decade, Republicans might be able to highlight the extremism of the Democratic party by forcing votes on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and other incremental measures.
Roy is also correct that the Roe v. Wade decision is misunderstood by the general public. A reversal of Roe would ban abortion, but would instead allow for abortion policy to be decided at the state level. However, the media often does not explain this and groups supporting legal abortion frequently circulate flawed analyses which claim that abortion would be quickly restricted in a large number of states should Roe be overturned. Roy is also correct that the reversal of Roe might allow for some broadly supported legal protections that would prevent many abortions. It might even present some legislative opportunities in “blue” states that would have appeal to moderates and Democrats. There will certainly be robust internal debates among pro-lifers about the wisdom of various incremental strategies and approaches in a post-Roe world. However, pro-lifers should never lose sight of our ultimate goal, legal protection for all unborn children in each of the 50 states.
— Michael New is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.