07 November 2009

Fight over abortion is far from over

And you thought the fight against abortion was no longer a viable issue.

Tonight's 240-194 vote in the House to impose a quite restrictive ban on subsidized health coverage in the comprehensive health reform package should delight anti-abortion activists — and infuriate those on the other side. It's probably the most meaningful congressional vote on an abortion matter in at least a dozen years.

So what happened? First is that this vote was on using tax money to pay for abortion; presumably, an outright ban would have had less support. Also, in recent years, it has become acceptable within the Democratic Party to be leery of abortion; in contrast with a few years ago, when anti-abortion Democrats were barred from speaking at their national convention, several visible leadership positions have gone in recent years to moderate anti-abortion politicians.

And I suspect, although I couldn't prove, that the strident position taken by many abortion-rights activists — refusing to even look at any compromise that many people in the middle would favor, such as reasonable parental-consent laws — have lost them sympathy with some middle-of-the road people from both sides of the political aisle. And I also suspect that there could be some sort of a backlash to recent gains from the left on social issues.

It's hard to say where it will lead. I don't foresee support for some of the more radical positions of some anti-abortion activists, such as granting all the rights of personhood to fetuses, or to prohibiting abortions in the most difficult cases, such as in the cases of rape and incest. But it's clear that, as bleak as things may have looked a few years ago for opponents of abortion, they are making some noticeable gains, even under a Democratic administration.

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