This photo appeared atop this article in the original publication in Commonweal, November 1981.

The Trauma of Abortion Politics

From abortion reform to abortion repeal
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For almost two decades, abortion has persisted on the political agenda. The Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton did not resolve this dispute but rather aggravated it to the point where the very fabric of democratic politics is threatened. In its present form, abortion joins such political issues as Abolition, school desegregation, Prohibition, and Bible-reading in the schools. As with these earlier controversies, abortion is not an economic but a “lifestyle” issue. It does not involve the immediate self-interest of the parties on either side of the dispute, nor does it allocate tangible resources among various groups in the population. The debate over abortion today is a contest between divergent values, and the dispute is so combative that the antagonists cannot even “agree to disagree.” They fail to acknowledge a common ground for argument, which is why a settlement of the abortion dispute is so distant.

The test abortion now poses for the stability of our democratic system need never have come to pass; the entire question did not begin with such ominous overtones, in fact, there have been two abortion issues—one that began in the 1960s and one that emerged during the 1970s. Only by fully understanding this difference can citizens appreciate how the abortion controversy has been transformed and intensified and what steps may be required to resolve it successfully. This transformation in abortion politics was precipitated by Wade and involved changes in the nature of the issue and in the scope of political conflict.

Most observers would not date the beginnings of this controversy earlier than 1959, the year when the American Law Institute recommended “therapeutic” abortion in cases where the mother’s or child’s physical or mental health was endangered or in cases of rape. Its Model Penal Code had little immediate effect, but eventually a “reform” movement coalesced around those objectives. The problem for reformers during the 1960s was to get exposure for an issue long ignored by the body politic. This was provided by the sensational publicity surrounding Sherri Finkbine’s effort to obtain a legal abortion and the birth-defect tragedies caused by the drug thalidomide as well as a subsequent outbreak of German measles. Ultimately, fourteen states reformed their abortion laws during 1966–1972; in 1970, moreover, New York, Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington “repealed” their statutes to permit abortion as an elective procedure. These eighteen states are significant beyond their numbers since they represented two-fifths of the nation’s population in 1970.

The gains made by reformers during this period were impressive. In most instances therapeutic abortion was enacted without much conflict. The arguments for reform seemed compelling, and the forces in opposition were not well organized. Catholics, in particular, were a decided minority in all the states adopting abortion reform except New York. What the 1960s showed was the gradual building of a consensus behind abortion reform. Conflict was also minimized because the terms of the debate were narrowed to a specific issue, “therapeutic” abortion, which seemed to have no major ramifications for society. And by following the guidelines of the American Law Institute (ALl), pro-abortion activists in virtually every state were bound by the same assumptions, made similar arguments, and pursued common objectives.

Reformers appealed to state legislatures to permit physicians to practice good medicine; they appeared to be calling for almost a technical revision in the criminal code to reflect contemporary medical standards.

Both proponents and opponents of abortion agreed that ALl reforms permitted abortions to only a limited number of women. Some pro-abortionists were concerned about this, arguing that many deserving women in depressed socioeconomic conditions would not be aided by reformed statutes, but others used this fact to assure the public that liberalization would have only limited impact on the country. While anti-abortionists raised the specter of mercy killing and infanticide resulting from this deterioration in public morals, the mass media tended to address the abortion question from a short-term, problem-solving perspective. That a moral position against abortion existed was duly noted, but opinion-making elites tended not to take it seriously. Instead, the controversy was defined as a medical problem rather than a moral issue. Reformers appealed to state legislatures to permit physicians to practice good medicine; they appeared to be calling for almost a technical revision in the criminal code to reflect contemporary medical standards. To the extent that any issue is defined as purely a technical problem, the citizenry tends to defer to the judgment of those experts directly involved. And this quality affected the abortion debate in the 1960s; the esteem enjoyed by the medical profession facilitated the cause of abortion reform. Numerous opinion polls were taken of physicians during this period, and all showed the profession to be solidly behind therapeutic abortion.

Nor was the call for abortion reform a radical alteration in public policy. There was a tradition behind it. All states operating under nineteenth century anti-abortion laws had permitted therapeutic abortion in cases where the mother’s life was endangered. A few states, moreover, allowed abortion also when the mother’s health was threatened. In this light, therefore, the reformers were simply asking for added therapeutic exceptions to the law. And this argument seemed modest compared to the opposition’s assertion that any abortion, including those now legal, was immoral and should be prohibited. Pro-abortionists were offering the public an argument for incremental changes in existing abortion law, whereas the opposition appeared more extreme in its position.

Another characteristic of the 1960s was the fact that the pro-abortion effort was “elitist” in nature. In each state that enacted abortion reform, a small number of activists working through ad hoc organizations were able to place this issue on the formal agenda of government. These activists were also able to build broad-based coalitions with established healthcare organizations, professional associations, and civic groups. And although certain pro-abortion militants occasionally used direct action to dramatize their cause, the thrust of abortion reform was to effectively utilize conventional lobbying techniques.

The public was not involved in the reform movement beyond articulating its approval for therapeutic abortion in public opinion surveys. During the 1960s as many as 80 percent of Americans favored abortion reform. And support came from both Catholics and Protestants, though Catholics tended not to support abortion at the same level as did Protestants. Nevertheless, given the legitimacy of reform in public opinion, it is highly doubtful that the kinds of arguments made by abortion opponents could have engendered a widespread public reaction against the limited goals being advanced by the abortion reformers.


Transition in Abortion Politics

From 1969 until 1973 abortion politics established the pattern which would dominate the post-Wade era. This pattern was shaped by three interrelated developments. First, pro-abortionists abandoned therapeutic reform in favor of outright repeal as their fundamental objective. The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) was formed in 1969, and numerous feminist, healthcare, and religious groups endorsed abortion “on demand.” Among such organizations were the American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization of Women, Physicians Forum. American Public Health Association, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church in the United States, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Second, the opposition to abortion appears to have stiffened during this time, and the emerging right-to-life movement did not moderate the debate by calling for a return to therapeutic abortion while opposing repeal. It sharpened the conflict by opposing any changes in the legal status quo. Given this increased hostility between the combatants, it became more difficult to fashion a meaningful compromise on this issue. During the years 1971–1973 only Florida enacted therapeutic reforms. At this time, moreover, the abortion activists had planned a Midwest offensive to push for abortion repeal; their defeats in Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan showed the tenacity of anti-abortion forces. In the case of Michigan, as well as in North Dakota in 1972, the opposition rallied public opinion to defeat referenda proposing liberalized abortion. In Pennsylvania, after a vicious confrontation between the disputants, the state legislature enacted a very restrictive law permitting abortion only when certified by three physicians. And in New York, anti-abortionists were able to pressure the legislature to rescind that state’s two-year-old “repeal” law, only to have that legislation vetoed by Governor Rockefeller.

Third, the proponents of abortion shifted their attention to the judiciary rather than expend limited resources on the slower process of lobbying state legislatures. Before 1969 there had been very little judicial involvement in the abortion issue. That year California’s pre-1967 law was invalidated by the State Supreme Court, and the District of Columbia abortion statute was declared unconstitutional by a federal District Court. In the fall of 1970 there were five abortion cases pending before the Supreme Court, more than twenty in lower federal courts, and many more in the state courts of eleven states. By the time of the Wade decision, the Supreme Court could cite precedent based upon seventeen judicial decisions. Anti-abortion laws in Connecticut, Georgia. Texas, North Dakota, Illinois, Kansas, New Jersey, Wisconsin, California, and Florida had all been declared invalid whereas others in Kansas, Louisiana, Noah Carolina, Ohio, Utah, Indiana, Mississippi, and South Dakota had been upheld, in this body of case law, the advocates of legalized abortion based their challenges on the following grounds: (1) the rights of the woman, (2) the vagueness of the statute, (3) the issue of privacy, and (4) equal protection. Where the courts upheld existing anti-abortion laws, they tended to accept the opposition’s view that the state had a “compelling” interest in regulating abortions and in protecting fetal life.

Various state court opinions, moreover, suggested that the fetus had some legal rights. Decisions in Rhode Island in 1938 and in New York in 1941, for example, said that the unborn child possessed the rights of a human being. Established tort law recognized that the unborn child had the right to receive compensation for injury and to be represented in court as a “person” who could sue for damages, even if stillborn. As recently as 1967, in Massachusetts, a state court declared in the case of Torigian v. Watertown News Co. that nonviability posed no barriers which would prevent a fetus from being considered a “person” with fights. Furthermore, it would have been a relatively simple matter in 1973 for the Supreme Court to have accepted the New York Court of Appeals’ opinion in Byrn v. New York City Health and Hospital Corp. in declaring the unborn child in the womb to be a living human being. What this review suggests is that the Supreme Court had ample precedent to uphold either position in the abortion controversy.

Instead, the Court applied its discovery of “privacy,” developed in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), to freedom of choice for the pregnant Jane Roe, refusing any longer to recognize the fetus as a human being. While appearing in Wade to weigh in delicate balance the fights of individual privacy against legitimate state interests in protecting life, and while claiming to reject requests for an unqualified fight to abortion, the Supreme Court in reality supported only the interests of the pregnant woman to choose whether or not to have an abortion. In reaching its decision in Wade, moreover, the Court relied upon presumption and inaccurate data to rationalize its stand favoring legalized abortion.

First, the pro-abortionists argued that the “original” nineteenth century anti-abortion statutes were enacted to protect the mother from dangerous and sometimes fatal surgical techniques. The Court cited “some scholarly support for this view of original purpose,” whereupon it totally accepted the historical research put forth by one scholar—an ally of the pro-abortion movement. This was clearly an incomplete reading of the literature, and subsequent research by James C. Mohr argues definitively that a concern for fetal life, and not the risks from abortion surgery, prompted the states to pass restrictive legislation during the nineteenth century.

Second, to document changing attitudes toward abortion, Wade mentions that liberalized abortion was supported by the American Bar Association (ABA), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Public Health Association (APHA). A reading of their policy statements, however, shows that only the APHA explicitly backed abortion-on-demand. The ABA in 1972 endorsed only ALl-type reforms, and the AMA’s position was even more complicated.

The Supreme Court’s third error proved to be most damaging to the anti-abortion position. The Court admitted that the question of when life begins was one with which it could not easily deal. Nevertheless, the Court emphasized the extent of the belief, especially among Protestants and Jews, that human life should be recognized only from birth. Subsequent research by Judith Blake, however, indicates that the vast majority of Catholics and non-Catholics tend to date the beginning of life at conception or quickening. In taking, for practical purposes, the position that protectable life begins at birth, the Supreme Court denied any validity to that ethical belief which lies at the heart of the anti-abortion position. For opponents of abortion, the Court’s ruling was an unqualified defeat. The Court would not consider appeals based upon the argument that the fetus is a “person.” This winner-take-all nature of the Wade decision is directly responsible for the turmoil which encircles the abortion controversy today. From this juncture, the anti-abortion forces had no recourse but to aggressively work to reverse Wade by legislative enactment or by constitutional amendment.


The 1970s: a new level of conflict

The Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion raised as many questions as it settled. Before the Court issued subsequent rulings, for example, it was unclear whether a minor could obtain an abortion without parental consent or whether a wife needed the concurrence of her husband. Another question left unsettled was whether the new-found “fight” to an abortion was an entitlement. Most of these “gray areas” in the Wade decision were exploited by abortion opponents to restrict its availability, so the very ambiguity of abortion on-demand served to expand the conflict.

After Wade the proponents of abortion, in fact, shifted their energies to the task of assuring equal access to abortion services, especially by the poor, which again had the effect of magnifying conflict over this issue.

Unlike the debate over therapeutics, moreover, elective abortion gained social significance because any woman, for practically any reason, could try to obtain a legal abortion. After Wade the proponents of abortion, in fact, shifted their energies to the task of assuring equal access to abortion services, especially by the poor, which again had the effect of magnifying conflict over this issue.

The 1970s debate over abortion was no longer limited to its short-term effects, for the opponents now linked abortion to other volatile political issues of the day. One side viewed elective abortion as undermining the woman’s role in society as well as the sanctity of the family unit. Opposition to abortion became entangled with opposition to ERA. Anti-abortion arguments were also linked to a “conservative” political ideology and to a belief in strict personal morality. The major research on this question is provided by Professor Donald Granberg of the University of Missouri, and he finds that the primary difference between pro-life and pro-choice activists relates to their attitudes toward such related issues as sex education, pornography, extramarital relations, and homosexuality. Within the political milieu of the 1970s, therefore, abortion became a codeword for a larger ideological perspective for both its proponents and opponents alike.

And finally, “on-demand” abortion was a radical departure in public policy, and few spokesmen on either side of the controversy were fully prepared for the magnitude of the Wade decision. Our reading of the anti-abortion literature suggests that the opposition was psychologically prepared to accept defeat in those states which enacted abortion reform, though they clearly did not relish the prospect. This was simply part of democratic politics. The idea of deciding this question in the courts, however, was steadfastly opposed by the anti-abortion forces because it undermined the process of negotiation and compromise and denied effective representation to the unborn.

Beyond changing the terms of the abortion debate, Wade increased political conflict by expanding the scope of participation in this controversy. In contrast to the “elitist” quality of the 1960s pro-reform lobby, the organizations now mobilized against legalized abortion assumed the characteristics of a “mass” movement. Involvement of the public in the anti-abortion movement occurred not only within the Catholic church and its affiliated organizations but also through pro-life groups which were able to recruit followers, raise money, and fashion an extensive organization apparatus at the local level.

During the 1960s, moreover, public opinion was compatible with the objective of abortion reform, but in the 1970s it diverged from the goals being advanced by abortion advocates. The public never fully accepted the “fight” of abortion on demand. It would appear, given the available opinion poll data, that (l) the Supreme Court's decision has slowly gained acceptance, but that (2) the Court's implementation of Wade is not approved, and that (3) the idea of purely elective abortion remains unpopular.

In answer to the following question—“In general, do you favor or oppose the U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortions up to three months of pregnancy legal?”—a series of Harris Surveys taken during 1972–1979 indicated that a majority of Americans, beginning in 1973, approved of the Court’s decision, when stated in these terms. By 1979 three-fifths approved and 37 percent disagreed. But of course the Supreme Court’s decision had legalized abortion, strictly speaking, for all nine months and freed it from most state regulation for the first six months of pregnancy. The Harris results can only be taken to show that at least two-fifths of the national sample remains opposed to Wade six years after that decision was rendered. But in addition, other surveys show that most citizens favor restricting abortions to state residents, having it performed only in hospitals, and requiring the husband’s approval where necessary. When asked whether abortions should be limited by circumstance, the majority of Americans continues to favor restrictions rather than purely elective abortion. The public has always exhibited greater approval for “hard” reasons for abortion, meaning those recommended by the American Law Institute, and socioeconomic reasons consistently elicit less than majority support in most opinion polls. In general, consensus is achieved among different socioeconomic groups on therapeutic abortion but not on socioeconomic grounds, and lower socioeconomic groups are especially vulnerable to changes in the public mood with regard to the latter.

One paramount reason why the reform movement during the 1960s was mainly consensual and no effective opposition could be launched was because the official position of the Catholic Church was not actively supported by lay Catholics. It may be that religious teachings against abortion, in the abstract, did not relate well to the needs for abortion when the mother’s and child’s health were threatened. But once the Supreme Court transformed the issue into a question of abortion on demand, the teachings of the Catholic Church began to make more sense to its constituency. Thus, Wade expanded the scope of conflict over abortion by activating a latent source of opposition to it by lay Catholics.

Apart from the tenuous support given to Wade by public opinion is the fact that a substantial number of Americans favor efforts to overturn that decision by legislative enactment or by constitutional amendment. Few surveys have been taken on this question, but the findings of those which have suggest that a majority of citizens do support a ban on public funding for abortions. There is less approval for a total prohibition by amendment; however, a 1976 Gallup Poll found that 45 percent favored this more extreme measure.

Not only has abortion politics in the 1970s differed from the 1960s both in terms of its issue characteristics and its level of political conflict, but the quality of political competition affecting abortion also changed fundamentally. First, the sides to this dispute are now polarized; second, personal confrontation has replaced reasoned dialogue.

Abortion has now taken on all the marks of a “community conflict.” This concept suggests a controversy which engenders a high degree of emotionalism, widespread involvement by the mass citizenry, and its persistence over time. It typically has been applied to disputes which erupt in localities and which engulf such communities in their entirety. During the 1950s the issue of fluoridating public water supplies was one frequent manifestation of community conflict. When an issue becomes polarized, as usually occurs in the course of community conflicts, the question is framed as a “yes or no” proposition. All parties to the dispute are forced to choose between them, and the middle ground is increasingly difficult to articulate.

The shift from issue debate to personal confrontation is also predictable in instances of community conflict. Opinion surveys show that political elites are more tolerant than citizens of political differences. This is exemplified by the workings of our legislative assemblies in government where interpersonal norms bolstered by organizational rules permit many serious political disputes to be aired without arousing personal animosities. For the citizen, who typically does not have many opportunities to be tested in this manner, the occasion which arouses political conflict can easily lead to its personalization. There are strong psychological forces at work here; we tend to direct all positive attributes onto our allies and to project all negative qualities on our enemies.

The abortion issue has not resulted in confrontation to the degree experienced during the civil fights movement or the anti-Vietnam protest days, but compared to the 1960s the use of mass demonstrations and direct action is more evident today. Pro-life extremists, for example, have resorted to firebombing abortion clinics in several cities and have harassed the patients and staff at other facilities. Both sides have taken to mounting marches and flaunting evocative public symbols. The increase in political confrontation has led some observers to view abortion as an instance of “single-issue” politics. But this phenomenon is simply the manifestation on the national level of the kinds of behavior patterns which typify community conflict at the sub-national level.

The debate over abortion suggests that the norms of political civility do not hold when an issue mobilizes groups whose members have an emotional commitment to one, all-encompassing cause.

This “single-issue” quality of abortion politics strains the democratic “rules of the game” in our society. The debate over abortion suggests that the norms of political civility do not hold when an issue mobilizes groups whose members have an emotional commitment to one, all-encompassing cause. That our regime does successfully restrain interest group competition in most instances is explained by the fact that single-issue groups rarely develop over “economic” issues. Interest groups, on the other hand, are organized to safeguard economic gains, and their membership usually defers to the judgment of leaders as to how best to accomplish that goal. Few members are actively involved, let alone ideologically committed, to the larger purposes of trade associations, professional groups, and the like. But in abortion politics, pro-life and pro-choice groups have had the double effect of sustaining a high-intensity conflict at the grassroots level while denying to political elites the discretion needed to arrange a political settlement to this issue. Consensus building on abortion remains the key issue to be resolved, and this problem began with the Supreme Court’s Wade decision.


Consensus Building and Abortion

Abortion has been a concern of our national government only since 1973. Before then it was regulated by the states as part of their “police powers” to protect the health, welfare, and morals of the citizenry. Congress and the Executive became involved in this dispute because Wade destroyed that political consensus on abortion “reform” achieved during the 1960s. Wade short-circuited public opinion on abortion, violated the prerogatives of the states over this policy area, and increased tensions between the Court and the popularly elected branches of government.

Tremendous social change has affected American society in the past three decades, and many of these changes have touched “lifestyle” issues—race, sexual mores, and women’s rights, to mention but a few. Without doubt the Supreme Court acted on these issues because the Congress refused to deal aggressively with obvious and serious injustices. But too often proponents of social change are concerned only with righting a wrong, demanding additional rights and liberties, or enacting new laws. They assume that long-standing problems can be erased with one stroke of a pen, and that the majesty of the law will solicit the obedience of the citizenry. But social problems persist, there are few simple solutions to complicated issues, and the people have a tremendous capacity to resist compliance with what they see as ill-advised legislation. The effective implementation of any public policy ultimately depends upon its legitimacy, and this is largely determined by the manner in which political consensus was achieved when the policy is enacted into law.

The provision of abortion services depends upon the voluntary cooperation of physicians, nurses, social workers, and numerous other healthcare professionals, as well as state and local government officials. Given the decentralized nature of America’s healthcare delivery system, therefore, compliance with Wade can be greatly affected by the continuing struggle between pro-life and pro-choice forces. And the record clearly shows that healthcare professionals have not responded to the demand for abortions. The Alan Guttmacher Institute monitors this development year-by-year, and its findings document a serious maldistribution of abortion services in this country. In 1976, for example, only 21 percent of our 2,060 public hospitals allowed abortions to be performed in their facilities, and this situation is little changed today.

Congressman Henry Hyde is quoted as saying, “You don’t compromise on this issue of abortion. How do you compromise when the issue is human life—not your life, somebody else’s life.” Hyde’s comments signal the fundamental reason why it is so difficult to resolve the abortion controversy to the satisfaction of all parties. Issues which are “economic” in character are more easily resolved because the antagonists can always, in the final analysis, agree to “split the difference.” This is not easily done on a lifestyle question, and particularly on an issue of morality. Related to this is the fact that Wade, as a public policy statement, did not reflect the balance of power between the contending forces in this struggle. While there can obviously be winners and losers in the legislative process, many scholars argue that the workings of Congress, with its need for compromise, bargaining, and negotiation, guarantees that “intense minorities” will not lose entirely in the final outcome. But this process is not characteristic of judicial decision-making, as Wade clearly shows. In that ruling, the Supreme Court addressed the concerns of a small number of abortion militants while ignoring the growing right-to-life movement and misreading public opinion on this entire question. As a result, the pro-lifers have gained the momentum in this struggle today, and their views predominate in Congress and our state legislatures.

The problem of consensus building is further compounded by the fact that leadership on this question has sometimes been assumed by ultra-conservatives who see an opportunity to exploit this issue for political gain. By focusing on abortion, for example, Republicans can undermine the commitment of working class voters to the Democratic party.

Historically the less affluent voted Democratic for economic benefits, but now Republicans are appealing to their conservatism on abortion and other lifestyle issues. The Republican party favors a pro-life amendment to the Constitution whereas the Democratic party has generally stood behind the Wade decision. This definition of abortion as a partisan dispute reflects the greater conflict surrounding this issue since 1973.

At this juncture in history, therefore, it appears that consensus building on abortion will take one of two forms. As one alternative, judicial supremacy in this policy area may be directly challenged by a constitutional amendment—either a pro-life version banning abortions or a states’ fights amendment returning jurisdictian over this question to the individual states. To date, nineteen states have called for a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the law on abortion, and what gravely concerns the pro-choice advocates is their location in every region of the country. These states include Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island in the East; Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee in the South; Idaho, Nevada, and Utah in the West; and Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Dakota in the Midwest. However, it would seem that the immediate prospects for overturning Wade by amendment are not good. No pro-life amendment has ever been considered by the entire House of Representatives or Senate, although many have been introduced into Congress every year since Wade. And an amendment would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate as well as the concurrence of three-fourths of the states.

Another alternative would be a “political” one, involving an understanding between the branches of government, And there does seem to be an emerging area of agreement among lawmakers. Congress and the majority of state legislatures approve of abortion for medical necessity; even the Hyde Amendment provided for this. On the other hand, there is very little support at the national or state levels for fully legalized abortion. This is exemplified by the Hyde Amendment, which permitted the states to reassert their priorities over abortion policy. And the trend has been clear.

By the end of 1978 only ten states (and the District of Columbia) agreed to pay for all abortions or those deemed medically necessary. Sixteen more states paid for abortions only when the mother’s life was threatened; five others would pay for abortions when the woman’s life was endangered or in cases of incest or rape; and eighteen states accepted the Hyde Amendment language and paid for abortions when the mother’s life was threatened, where pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or where the woman might suffer lasting physical harm. In 1978, 80 percent of all abortions paid for were done because the mother's life was threatened; less than 20 percent involved a situation where serious physical health problems existed; and only about 2 percent involved cases of rape or incest. Therefore, the vast majority of states agreed to fund abortions for those “therapeutic” indications (except for fetal abnormality) which had been proposed by the American Law Institute twenty years earlier.

These parameters of abortion policy will not satisfy the pro-life or pro-choice militants, but they suggest the beginning of a solution to this dilemma. We do not argue that this scenario is the “best” or the “moral” solution to the problem of abortion, but we do suspect that it may be the viable alternative in terms of the requirements of consensus building. For one thing, therapeutic abortion is solidly supported by the citizenry as well as healthcare professionals. For another, the Supreme Court has opened the door to this kind of resolution of the abortion issue by upholding the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment. Finally, as imperfect as this option may seem, it comes closer to addressing the concerns of pro-life advocates that abortion not be used indiscriminately as an easy solution to difficult moral and sexual problems. Furthermore, by this solution, the political system will have responded to a very real social problem but in a manner which re-establishes the viability of public policy and the legitimacy of our governmental institutions. The major lesson to be learned from our experience with abortion politics, unfortunately, is that we had to experience the debilitating effects of this long struggle in order to fashion a solution to the abortion issue which was so obviously indicated two decades ago—before the intrusion of the Supreme Court.

This article was originally published in Commonweal’s special abortion issue, released November 20, 1981. It is adapted from the book The Politics of Abortion: A Study of Community Conflict in Public Policy-Making (Praeger) by Raymond Tatalovich and Byron W. Daynes, published in 1981. 

Raymond Tatalovich is a professor of political science at Loyola University of Chicago.

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