For decades, abortion was thought of as an issue that riled up religious zealots in the Bible Belt. “Enlightened” Americans, however, saw abortion as the key to women’s liberation and a more egalitarian society.
Their notions about history and progress assured them that abortion was an essential part of the path forward, for women and for society more broadly.
Wednesday’s news that Gallup is now recording the lowest level of self-described pro-choicers in its history of tracking the abortion issue is no doubt an unwelcome hiccup in their vision for America.
The survey found:
The 41 percent of Americans who now identify themselves as “pro-choice” is down from 47 percent last July and is one percentage point below the previous record low in Gallup trends, recorded in May 2009. Fifty percent now call themselves “pro-life,” one point shy of the record high.
The polling shows that rather than embracing abortion with increasing gusto, Americans--especially young Americans--are rejecting it with increasing disgust, and not just for religious reasons.
First, the fetus has been humanized. Modern science has helped us to understand with intricate detail the amazing phenomenon that occurs at the moment of fertilization. From then on, a pregnant woman can track the extraordinary chain of events that is triggered in the new life within her with a slew of Web sites and iPhone apps. She learns her baby’s heart starts beating at a mere 21 days after conception (before many women learn they are pregnant). She meets her baby on the ultrasound screen at eight weeks as opposed to at the end of nine months.
Second, we have seen the way abortion is used in the world to undermine the rights of women, whether it is forced abortion in China, gender-selective abortion worldwide or its concentration among poor and minority women. Abortion is increasingly hard to square with women’s empowerment when it is the single greatest contributor tipping the scale towards a world with fewer women.
Finally, the pro-life movement has caught on to the importance of framing. You can’t win a debate if you are trying to take away the “rights” of a group. And that is a good thing – this is a nation where rights mean something. Which is why pro-lifers are increasingly framing abortion as a civil rights issue. It is a civil rights issue. At stake is the most elemental right we have as a human being, the right to be alive, the right not to be killed, regardless of one’s race, gender, or “viability.”
Many past civil rights movements in this country, such as the move to end slavery or the fight for women’s suffrage, were deeply rooted in religious conviction. Such is the case with the pro-life movement. But with each of these movements there was a tipping point where Americans saw that one need not be a devoutly religious person to recognize the social justice issue at stake and to get behind the cause. This is happening with abortion in America.
And as it turns out, the religious people behind much of the pro-life movement aren’t actually so nutty, or so old. Speaking about the teeming throngs at the 2010 March for Life, departing NARAL President, Nancy Keenan, said then, fearfully, “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” she said. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
Yup. Here we come. Our marches may get measly coverage. We may be the pitied laughingstock of ‘sophisticated’ urban cocktail parties. We may champion the Cinderella of human rights issues.
But we are winning. And our cause is life.
Ashley McGuire is editor-in-chief of AltCatholicah.