Published on
the Independent/UK

Abortion: The Hysteria that Divides the US

Andrew Gumbel

Anti-abortion campaigners in the US will tell you their crusade is about the sanctity of life. But really it is about upholding a singularly unhealthy tendency in American public life - the exploitation of a divisive social and ethical issue to further the ambitions of a single political party whose agenda doesn't necessarily reflect the interests of the anti-abortion campaigners at all.

Since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v Wade ruling and asserted that women have a constitutional right to choose to end an unwanted pregnancy, abortion has been the Republican Party's best tool for enlisting grass-roots support, particularly among evangelical Christians.

At the time, the Republican party was broken - unable to muster a majority in either house in Congress and beleaguered by the Watergate scandal that was to prove Nixon's undoing. Key to its recovery was a new wave of grass-roots organizing in conservative churches. Overturning Roe v Wade became a mantra for this movement.

At almost every turn, however, the anti-abortion campaigners have had reason to be disappointed. Roe v Wade remains on the statute books. Ronald Reagan tinkered with the abortion laws, as George Bush has done since, but fell far short of grass-roots expectations.


Never Miss a Beat.

Get our best delivered to your inbox.

The problem is that the majority of Americans support the notion of a woman's right to choose. So politicians are wary of doing anything to make the issue blow up in their faces. Evangelical Christians may pray for Roe v Wade to be overturned, but such a decision by the Supreme Court could easily provoke a political backlash guaranteeing Democratic election victories.

The trick, for Republicans, is to raise the issue just enough to stir the passions of their supporters without turning it into a liability. As the political commentator Thomas Frank put it, they may talk the God talk but they still walk a predominantly corporate walk.

The contradictions between the anti-abortion rhetoric and political reality have been glaring. Republicans who talked about the sanctity of life in the wake of Roe v Wade also supported the Vietnam War. Reagan may have rushed to the defense of the fetus, but he also cut social programs to lower-income families, including access to health care. Many ardent pro-life Republicans have also supported the death penalty. As the Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank said: "For Republicans, life begins at conception and ends at birth."

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article