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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Shrinking Support for Abortion Rights


Gloria Steinem, the feminist author and activist, argued that abortion was "the moral equivalent of a tonsillectomy" and that the human fetus was nothing more than a "mass of dependent protoplasm." If Steinem's stated views ever enjoyed popular support, they emphatically do not do so today.

In fact, according to a recent poll by the respected Pew Research Center, the lopsided majority margin (57 percent to 37 percent) by which Americans said, just over a year ago, that abortion should be legal rather than illegal in most or all cases has now shrunk to thin 47 percent to 44 percent plurality supporting abortion rights.

Earlier, a May 2009 Gallup Poll found that — even with a pro-abortion-rights Democrat in the White House and robust Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate — for the first time since the question had been asked a 51 percent majority of Americans called themselves "pro-life" on the abortion issue, while 42 percent self-identified as "pro-choice."

Scott Keeter, the director of research at Pew, perceives real "ambivalence" on the part of the poll's respondents on the thorny question of abortion.

Truth be told, American voters are complicated people whose consensus position, if there actually is one, on this divisive issue might best be described as simultaneously "pro-choice" and "anti-abortion." That is, there is no substantial popular support for prosecuting or imprisoning a woman who after consulting her conscience, her spiritual counselor or physician decides to seek an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy.

But by a landslide 65 percent to 26 percent number, Americans now say it would be good to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country — a 13 percent increase since 2005.

Similarly, by a four-to-one margin (76 percent to 19 percent), Americans endorse requiring women under the age of 18 to obtain the consent of at least one parent before getting an abortion.

Support for the position that abortion should be legal in all or most cases dropped in every age group among both genders in the last year, except one — males between the ages of 18 to 29.

Only a cynic would point out that males between the ages of 18 to 29 are the group most likely to be directly involved in an unplanned pregnancy — and therefore face either being legally required to pony up 18 years of child support or, maybe, sharing the onetime cost of an abortion. That just might explain this male age cohort's unflagging support for abortion rights!

The issue of abortion has receded in urgency. Just 15 percent of Americans now deem abortion to be a critical issue facing the country, a drop from the 28 percent who thought so in 2006. Three years ago, 34 percent of liberal Democrats saw abortion as a critical issue. Today, with Democrats controlling Washington, just 8 percent of liberal Democrats see it as a critical issue.

As the political maxim teaches: When the economy is bad, the economy is the only issue.

One additional reason, cited by Pew's Keeter, is the near-universality of sonograms. It is hard to use the clinical terms embryo and fetus — or to compare abortion to an appendectomy — when one can see the hands, head and toes of a baby.

Still, two out of three Americans believe "the country needs to find a middle ground on abortion laws." One positive initiative is The Pregnant Women Support Act, sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., which could reduce the number of abortions by fully funding the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), provide counseling and shelter to women in abusive relationships, provide nurse home-visit programs for pregnant and new mothers under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and help pregnant women stay in school, prepare for college or vocational training and learn parenting skills.

Yes, there is a price tag. But if we're serious about finding common ground on abortion, it's a good start.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
I applaud the proposed support of pregnant women as introduced in the Senate but it truly doesn't attack the problem where it starts. Sex education is the greater protection from unwanted pregnancy - not "abstinence only"! Men and women, boys and girls, need to understand their bodies and be encouraged to make the choices before they become sexually involved. Ultimately females will shoulder the load of child care and the support you've outlined is barely scratching the surface of that burden.
The anti-choice senators may find this bill satisfactory but pro-choice supporters will see this as the continuing chipping away of the rights of a woman to control her own body.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Joan Adler
Sat Oct 3, 2009 8:16 PM
I think the Pregnant Women Support Act is a brilliant idea. I hope it passes.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Penny
Sun Oct 4, 2009 9:36 PM
Sir;...I think the numbers of Abortions could be reduced to a minimum if all of us would show that we care... People get pregnant because they care, and think some one else cares too... No one cares... Every society thinks it needs children to live, but no society concerned only with profit has heart for the young... I do not like abortions, but public opinion has nothing to do with abortion, if it is a right... It is not society which determines what rights are...Every time a person tells his government what he needs, and cannot live without, he has demanded a right...People do not demand the right to do good... If you wish to do good then have at it.... What we so seldom realize is that the ability to do good rests on the same freedom as one needs to do wrong, or sin.....The moral argument for abortion is that unless all people are free to dispose of the bodies as they see fit, they are not free... So we are not free, and if we cannot do with our bodies as we see fit then we are denied the ultimate defense against slavery and tyranny, and that is to not participate....We are not free, and most of us cannot defend the freedom we have never known...Yet, while we are denied our freedom, it is not just to deny freedom in turn to all others...We might well ask why mothers do not want the love of a child...Is it not a simple thing, beautiful and profound??? They know, and men should know too that motherhood is like any dirty job with too much responsibility and too little reward... Love should be a kindness we all share, but love cannot be found... We have little of what we need, and nothing to give to the future, and for men to demand of unloved women, that they give their wombs to shield our babes that we want for our own, who will want for their own in due time, is not at all fair to the females who want for their own... Who raises babies???Could it be four walls and a television set??? We cannot continue to say we love the baby, and hate the child... We cannot say we love the fetus, and hate the one who will not bear her own seed... If you want children, personally, or for society; you must have love... Love makes children welcome, and no other kind ought to be born...An unwanted child is a human poison...Thanks....Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Oct 7, 2009 8:17 PM
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