Abortion may appear to be one of those issues for which there is no middle position. It is about the most polarizing issue in political life today. On most polarized issues, when the activists on opposing sides get to know one another better and understand where the other side is coming from, the conflict between them is reduced. Not with abortion: as Kristin Luker has shown in Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, when pro-life and pro-choice activists understand their opponents’ worldview, they find it even more terrible and incomprehensible.
At the same time, abortion is not going away. The public is about evenly divided on the abortion rules we have today. Most want some kind of choice on abortion, but not abortion on demand. And the sheer magnitude of abortion in America makes it both an important substantive problem, and an intractable one. There are about 1.2 million abortions per year in the United States. That is about 1/4 of the babies conceived each year. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, about 40 million Americans have been aborted – about 13% the size of our current population.
Which is why it is so important to articulate a centrist position on abortion. I believe a good way to put it is: keep abortion safe, legal, and abhorrent. Senator Clinton favors the milder formula of “safe, legal, and rare.” I can go with either one. The crucial point is that, like most Americans, I think abortion should be legal, at least when the fetus has no chance of living as a baby, or when the mother’s life is threatened. At the same time, I think we as a society should provide many incentives and safeguards to keep abortion from being just another form of birth control, as I believe it is in most of those million-plus cases each year.
In the past generation, abortion has become an issue that divides the two political parties. Elephants are supposed to have long memories, but most Republicans of my acquaintance forget that the GOP supported abortion after Roe, and many in the Barbara Bush wing still do. And many of my fellow donkeys are prone to kick any Democrat who goes against pro-choice orthodoxy. Democrats for Life of America is, of necessity, a centrist organization. They have come up with a comprehensive proposal to significantly reduce abortion, not through restrictive laws, but through better information, through stronger incentives, and, especially, through better support for babies and their parents.
The 95-10 proposal has the ambitious aim to reduce the number of abortions by 95% in ten years. The program starts with better education about pregnancy prevention, the pregnancy support that is already available, the extent of the national abortion rate, and counseling and daycare on campus, an issue I wrote about recently. The act would then make existing adoption tax credits permanent, ban jacking up insurance rates for the “pre-existing condition” of pregnancy (as if it were a disease), and increase funding against domestic violence, as murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. The 95-10 proposal does not end with the child’s birth, though; the act would fully fund the Women, Infants, and Children program, and require the successful State Child Health Insurance Programs to include pregnant women and their babies.
I think it unlikely that any program can reduce the abortion rate 95%, short of coercion so draconian that it would be un-American. Still, most people, when presented with the enormous size of the abortion rate in America, do favor reducing it. The combination of education and support that the 95-10 proposal offers could go some way – maybe halfway – to reducing the abortion rate. And that is a worthy centrist goal.