I greatly appreciate Michael J. New’s comments about birth control and abortion, but I was struck by the claims that “a sexually liberated culture is never going to support significant restrictions on abortion” and that getting rid of the “contraceptive culture” might be a prerequisite to enacting meaningful pro-life policies.
Sexual liberation and abortion are certainly related, but they’re not one and the same, and I would argue that our culture does support significant restrictions on abortion. There is a fair amount of support for the pro-life perspective evident in opinion polls — sometimes even a majority, depending on exactly what question is asked. The more conservative states, at the very least, stand ready to restrict abortion as soon as the Supreme Court gets out of the way. Given that contraceptive use is pretty much ubiquitous and that premarital sex was the norm even in the 1950s, a great many Americans must be finding a way to reconcile pro-life views with their participation in the “contraceptive culture.”
The problem has always been judicial activism more than public opinion. At the time of Roe, very few states had abortion on demand, but Roe was a 7–2 decision. Conservatives spent two decades pushing the Court rightward but ended up with Casey, in which there were still five votes for upholding Roe.
And if a sexually liberated culture is really inconsistent with pro-life laws, we might want to just give up at this point. We’ve gone from a 1950s in which premarital sex was already the norm to a modern era in which we have reliable contraception and economic reasons to marry later. Even conservatives don’t want to make any serious attempt to restrict access to contraception; heck, we haven’t even managed to keep the government from paying for it. For better or worse, chastity is not making a comeback anytime soon.