Pro-Lifestyle

By Caldwell, Christopher | The Human Life Review, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Pro-Lifestyle


Caldwell, Christopher, The Human Life Review


Texas Governor George W. Bush's remarks on abortion as he announced his presidential exploratory committee have jolted Republican politics. Bush claims to like his party's anti-abortion "tenor" and to favor a constitutional prohibition. But he's also a "realistic enough person to know that America is not ready to ban abortions." The underlying message: Bush is a pro-lifer you can vote for without fear that your abortion rights will be curtailed.

Bush's rivals for the nomination have called those statements an appalling surrender. "Our role," says Christian rightist Gary Bauer, "must be to help shape public opinion." Pat Buchanan admits that "we don't have the votes for a human life amendment" but predicts that, if Republicans keep fighting, they might gain force "vote after vote after vote." In other words, pro-lifers not only claim that theirs is the right side; they also believe that, properly handled, it is the winning side.

Their familiar reasoning goes like this: One-fourth of all Americans favor abortion on demand, while only one-tenth think it should be banned outright. But the two-thirds of Americans in the center draw from both extremes: they are wracked by moral misgivings about their support of legal abortion. Pro-lifers have always thought that, by focusing on the misgivings, antiabortion Republicans can win over middle America.

They can't. That middle two-thirds is not up for grabs, because the misgivings are largely bogus. Whether or not Bush's is a principled stand, it is a pragmatic one. Because the main thing Bush is "realistic enough to know" is that a pro-life regime is not really something Americans want-it's just something they feel they ought to want.

The central political fact about abortion in America is that there's a lot of it. While America's annual abortion count has fallen to 1. 3 million in the late '90s, it averaged 1.5 million a year between 1973 and 1996, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood. That's more than 34 million abortions. It's worth noting that the National Right to Life Organization does not contest these figures. Because, if we cast the net as widely as we can-from women who were pushing 40 in the early '70s to girls who are still teenagers today-only about 90 million women have passed through any part of childbearing age since Roe v. Wade. Even accounting for those who have had multiple abortions, that means close to half of American young women are using abortion-43 percent by age 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In the polls, Americans profess ambivalence about abortion, openly supporting it only for "serious" reasons: for the health of the mother by 84 percent to twelve percent, for grave birth defects by 75 to 21, for rape by 77 to 19. They claim to oppose it for "trivial" reasons-for women who say they can't afford another baby by 42 to 53, for those who don't want another baby by 40 to 55, for those trying to avoid a shotgun wedding by 40 to 55. In other words, Americans claim not to back "lifestyle" abortions.

Yet the vast majority of abortions today are for reasons of lifestyle. Only about 14,000 women per year get abortions because of rape, incest, or to save their own lives. Of the other 1,286,000, three-fourths say a baby would interfere with work, school, or other responsibilities; two-thirds say they cannot afford a child; one-half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their male partner, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Lifestyle always overpowers traditional morality in the war within the Western conscience, and nowhere more obviously than when abortions reach the level of pro-life parody, as they do more commonly than most abortion rights advocates will admit. The British gynecologist P. Greenhalgh writes of a rich mother of three who came to her for an abortion. She wanted a fourth child but not just yet, since the family had already reserved a ski vacation months down the line. …

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