Whether the conversation is about stem cell research, end of life options, HPV vaccines, birth control including emergency contraceptives, comprehensive sex education or yes the a-word - abortion, American voters see these as important life decisions. In order to make these decisions responsibly, voters know that people need access to accurate information and services. When it comes to our personal lives, individual decision-making trumps other values with respect, personal responsibility, prevention, planning and protection close behind.
Eighty-one percent of likely voters agree that there is a much broader discussion that needs to happen beyond abortion that includes reproductive health and rights, end of life and stem cell issues. So please, Congress, policymakers, advocates and members of the media, understand that it's time to move forward with a broader agenda and recognize that it matters where we start the conversation. If the conversation starts with abortion, it never gets off the issue. Right-wing extremists know that narrowly focusing the conversation on abortion keeps their small base of nine percent energized and the rest of us polarized. These 9 percent of voters are already 80% Republican and not likely to ever budge.
But many Republicans show considerable support for birth control and comprehensive sex education (80% supports among voters who only vote Republican.) These same Republicans want a broader agenda, do support Roe v Wade and don't believe the issue of abortion as a single issue should be getting so much air time. That's why Rudy Giuliani is getting traction, regardless of his position on abortion.
The larger group of Republicans sees abortion in context and not an issue driving them to the ballot box. The issue of abortion was not a factor in the 2004 presidential election. According to the slew of exit polls conducted after that election, only 2-5 % depending on which exit poll one looked at, said that abortion affected their vote. Divide that between pro and anti-abortion activists and it's about 1-2% of voters for both sides.
But, if the personal and political conversations are around a larger set of important life decision issues that are confronted in people's everyday lives, then voters will respond. Think about the numbers for a minute. For every personal decision voters make on abortion each year, they make a 1000 or more decisions about using condoms, swallowing birth control pills, sending teens to sex ed classes, signing an end-of-lie directive or seeking options when a loved one is terminal, on life support and has no possibility of surviving. The public wants the national conversation to reflect this larger reality.
Ask young women voting for the first time what the cost of her contraceptive pills are each month. For many it's between $35 and $50 because not all have insurance coverage, and if they do, often Viagra is covered but birth control pills are not.
Ask a woman voter whose pharmacy refuses to fill her prescription how important the issue is in her personal life.
Ask what most voters thought about politicians in Congress insisting that the plight of Terri Schiavo be dragged to the House floor, and they will tell you it was a total debacle and that they do not want that happening to their loved ones.
Then there is the overwhelming support for stem cell research on embryos that will be destroyed anyway but cannot be used for supporting research on life-threatening diseases. Or, the $1.5 billion spent on abstinence-only before marriage programs that recently- released research has definitively shown to be ineffective.
These are the important life decisions voters want to know more about when they go to the polls in November 2008. Voters have made decisions about abortion long ago, and only 11 percent want the procedure to be outlawed and made illegal again-- which is the agenda of abortion opponents along with outlawing birth control and comprehensive sex education.
Why do I know all of this? Because for the last year, the Women Donors Network, a group of which I am a member, in conjunction with the Communications Consortium Media Center, have completed extensive research including focus groups, on-line chat rooms, dial groups, validation polls with regular updates. With very few exceptions (about 9 percent are exceptions), voters are ready for broader, more serious conversations about their real and important life decisions. So let's move forward with a broader agenda that voters are ready and eager to hear about, speak about and vote upon.