ABORTION IS THE PUREST EXAMPLE OF “SYMBOLIC” POLITICS, INVOLVING the imposition of what Kent Weaver and Leslie Pal call “value-focused” pain. Today the scope of conflict over abortion rages over the entire U.S. political system, touching every branch of the state and national governments and extending to acts of violence by political extremists. In the United States abortion has been an ongoing controversy for more than a quarter-century, whereas in Canada a serious political debate over abortion started in 1988 but pretty much ended after 1990. Why and how the Canadian political regime was able to neutralize an issue that exploded onto the American political scene with such intensity is the fundamental question to be addressed in this chapter.
While all “moral” conflicts involve symbolic pain, they may involve other kinds of loss imposition as well. There is an element of self-interest going beyond symbolism when the National Rifle Association opposes gun laws, because there are hundreds of millions of guns in the United States, and gun owners constitute a sizable number of Americans. In the case of abortion, however, in no year have more than 1.5 million American women gotten abortions—and given that the rallying cry of pro-choice does not directly affect men and that pro-life women presumably have no desire to abort their pregnancies, abortion does not involve the personal self-interest of most Americans, or even of most women. Indeed, abortion engages altruistic motivations, not self-interested ones, because both sides of the abortion