Time for an Abortion Truce?

Looking Ahead: Abortion

Supporters of legal abortion were elated by last week’s election. Pro-choice forces gained 17 seats in the House and five in the Senate – plus, of course, the White House.

What will they do with their new clout?

First up: Press President-elect Barack Obama to reverse a policy of withholding U.S. family-planning grants from any international group that provides abortions, or even counsels women about that option. “We’d like to see that overturned on his first day in office,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Mr. Obama’s transition team has already indicated he shares that priority.

Liberals also expect Mr. Obama to stop federal funding of abstinence-only education and to boost subsidies for poor women’s reproductive health care, including contraception and gynecological exams.

That agenda, if enacted, would likely send more federal funds flowing to Planned Parenthood. Along with being the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood teaches sex ed to teenagers across the country and offers women subsidized health care through a network of nearly 900 clinics.

The prospect of Planned Parenthood getting more taxpayer dollars – at a time when the organization is reporting record revenue – has anti-abortion activists up in arms.

But pro-life strategists are unsure how to translate that anger into an effective political movement. (See today’s story: Abortion Foes’ Dilemma: Confront or Cooperate?) They’ve never been able to rally voters to their side in great numbers; 16 of 21 anti-abortion ballot measures on state ballots since the 1980s have failed, including three last week. Abortion opponents were most disheartened by their loss in South Dakota, a conservative state where they tried and failed for the second time in two years to pass a broad abortion ban in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Surveying those defeats, several leading abortion opponents said their message was clearly not resonating with the American public.

“We are going to have to go back to some very deep Biblical thinking about where we go from here,” said the Rev. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, hopes the new playbook will include financing and promoting independent movies, music, even YouTube videos that build what she calls a “culture of life.” Other strategists call for a shift in focus away from political organizing and toward evangelism in the hopes of sparking a conservative Christian revival across the land.

Whatever their approaches, after eight years of advances, abortion foes now will be playing defense. And some analysts expect public support for their crusades to weaken still further. As Jean Schroedel, a political scientist at Claremont Graduate University, put it: “Americans are just tired of fighting over abortion.”

Readers: Are you tired of the abortion wars? Do you think we as a society are ready to call a truce — and on what terms? What do you expect from Mr. Obama in this arena? And what policies would you like the new administration to consider? — Stephanie Simon

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