Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winning the argument

In the course of discussing improvements in various social indicators the authors of this article at the Commentary site recount progress on abortion. Attitudes are changing:
.... Abortion, too, is down. After reaching a high of over 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the U.S. has dropped to fewer than 1.3 million, a level not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized the practice. ....

As for the decrease in abortions, it seems to have been influenced less by policy than by the changing terms of public debate and, more importantly, by increasingly responsible attitudes among the young. Two decades ago, pro-life spokesmen changed their rhetorical tactics and began to choose their fights more carefully. The clear-cut issue of partial-birth abortion, although not settled legislatively until 2003, colored the abortion debate throughout much of the 1990’s, in the process creating greater sympathy for a moderately pro-life position. And the pro-abortion Left likewise softened its rhetoric, evidently reasoning that a more cautious approach, as encapsulated in Bill Clinton’s promise to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare,” was likelier to draw support. As a result, some of the more extreme arguments for unrestricted abortion rights slowly dropped by the wayside.

Other factors played a role as well, including the efforts of pro-life groups to assist women with unwanted pregnancies, the greater availability of birth control, and advances in our scientific understanding of fetal development. Contributing to the rethinking was the more widespread use of sonogram technology, which enables would-be parents to see the developing child and its human form at a very early stage. All in all, not only has the public discussion of abortion been profoundly transformed, but younger Americans seem to have moved the farthest—in September, a Harris poll found that Americans aged eighteen to thirty were the most likely of all age groups to oppose the practice. This trend seems likely to continue.

With the abortion issue, we have already moved from a change brought about in large part by government policy to one arising mainly through the (sometimes heated) give-and-take of public discussion and the slow, subterranean shifting of social attitudes. ....
Commentary Online: Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News

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