Challenging Feminist Orthodoxy

Article excerpt

When Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law new regulations for Missouri abortion clinics this month, the critical response from abortion-rights groups highlighted a hotly contested question in today's abortion debate: Which side cares more about women?

For decades, the feminist establishment has declared the question a no-brainer. The right to abortion is the premier women's right, feminist leaders argue, so support for unfettered abortion access is the litmus test for concern for women. And restrictions on abortion or abortion providers-such as the new provision in Missouri law that holds abortion clinics to the same health and safety standards as other outpatient surgical centers-are, by definition, anti-woman.

This simplistic logic permeates much press coverage of abortion. The terms "women's rights" and "abortion rights" are used interchangeably. Pro-choice politicians are presumed to have a lock on the women's vote. And pro-lifers are depicted as fanatical about babies but indifferent to their mothers.

Like most conventional wisdom, these assumptions have grown stale. The claim that pro-choice advocates have a corner on compassion is belied by the reality of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that offer women food, shelter, clothing and emotional support. These centers, for which state support was solidified under the new law, serve women abandoned by a society that considers pregnancy a woman's choice-and a woman's problem.

As for women's views on abortion, they are mixed. The much-hyped "gender gap" in presidential politics has shrunk sharply in recent years, with pro-choice Sen. John Kerry winning the women's vote over pro-life President Bush by only three percentage points in 2004. Polls show that women feel more strongly than men about abortion but also are more divided.

And their views are not static. A new study from Overbrook Research found that the share of Missouri women identifying themselves as "strongly pro-life" rose from 28 percent in 1992 to 37 percent in 2006, with the ranks of the "strongly pro-choice" shrinking from about a third to a quarter of Missouri women. This prolife shift was even more pronounced among young women.

Women are beginning to question the feminist establishment's reduction of the abortion debate to a zero sum game that pits a mother's welfare against that of her unborn child. …