The magazine recently featured a major article on abortion, and it just might be the most important article on this issue in recent history.
In "The Abortion Distortion -- Just How Pro-choice is America, Really?," writer Jennifer Senior offers an incredibly insightful and important essay on the moral status of abortion in the American mind. Senior is clearly writing to a New York readership -- expected to be overwhelmingly pro-choice and settled in a posture of abortion advocacy. Given the passage of the so-called "Stupak amendment" to the health-care reform bill adopted by the House of Representatives, many in the pro-choice movement responded with amazement that a pro-life minority has been able to muster such support. Jennifer Senior posed the most awkward question for her readers: Is America really pro-choice?
According to a Gallup poll from July, 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be either illegal or "legal only in a few circumstances." Only seventeen states pay for the procedure for poor women beyond the standards of the 1977 Hyde Amendment—meaning if the woman's life is in danger or she's been the victim of rape or incest. Just two months before the health-care bill's passage in the House, a Rasmussen poll found that 48 percent of the public didn't want abortion covered in any government-subsidized health plan, while just 13 percent did. (Thirty-two percent believed in a "neutral" approach—though what on Earth that means is hard to say.)
As a matter of fact, Senior went all the way back to 1973 in order to document her assessment that America was never as pro-choice as many liberals had assumed. The legal impact of Roe v. Wade could not overcome the fact that, as Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University noted, the decision "was one of the few Supreme Court decisions that was out of step with mainstream public opinion."
Senior suggests that America is "a very ambivalent pro-choice nation." She acknowledges the numerical data that indicates an increasing pro-life direction for the American people and, speaking to a pro-choice readership, laments that "it sometimes gets lost how truly numerically challenged we are."
So, just how did the Stupak amendment pass?
The idea that a bunch of pro-life rogue wingnuts have hijacked the agenda and thwarted the national will is a convenient, but fanciful, belief. Even with an 81-person margin in the House, and even with a passionately committed female, pro-choice Speaker, it was the Democrats who managed to pass a bill that, arguably, would restrict access to abortion more aggressively than any state measure or legal case since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.
Along the way, Jennifer Senior makes some fascinating observations. In terms of the motivation to be engaged in the issue of abortion, she quotes Harrison Hickman, a former NARAL pollster, as saying: "If you believe that choosing the wrong side of the issue means spending eternal life in Hades, of course you're going to be more focused on it." That is a very powerful affirmation of the fact that one's worldview really does matter.
She also understands the great generational shift taking place on the issue. She recognizes that the current generation of younger voters "is the most pro-life to come along since the generation born during the Great Depression." Why? This same generation is the first to grow up with ultrasound images taped to the refrigerator door. Their understanding of the fetus is dramatically different from those who never had to face those images. Furthermore, Senior also raises the fascinating insight that the big technological advance experienced by this generation was IVF -- a technology that allowed having babies rather than not having them. This generation understands the issue in terms of infant human life. They do not see a mere fetus. They recognize a baby. Nancy Keenan of NARAL is cited as saying that the biggest defenders of abortion are now a "menopausal militia."
Senior also deals with the troubled moral conscience of the pro-choice movement and abortion providers with remarkable candor. She reports that abortion counselors "will also tell you that the stigma attached to the procedure is worse than it's been in years." She cites Charlotte Taft, operator of a Dallas abortion clinic, who acknowledged to a reporter that women know "abortion is a kind of killing." Jeannie Ludlow is cited for her uncomfortable experience in seeing repeat-abortion patients. The horror and reality of late-term abortions is documented -- even as the continued "right" to such procedures is advocated.
By any measure, Jennifer Senior has written one of the most honest, revealing, insightful, and important articles on abortion to appear in recent history. At the same time, it is one of the most troubling. Once again, we are reminded that the American conscience is not settled on the issue of abortion. We should be thankful that recent events and cultural developments -- aided and abetted by technology -- have made a real difference, helping and forcing Americans to understand that abortion is the killing of a human life.
In a very real sense, we should be thankful that the American conscience remains unsettled on this issue. A good and honest conversation about the reality of abortion is one of the best means of serving the cause of life. Jennifer Senior's honest article can serve as an incredibly potent catalyst for such a conversation.
Jennifer Senior, "The Abortion Distortion -- Just How Pro-Choice is America, Really?," New York Magazine, November 29, 2009. [Partial nudity in cover photo.]