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The Abortion Wars, Part One: Who’s Winning – And How

Conservative Republicans have been winning these wars in recent years, curtailing women’s rights to access abortions. Steadily capturing state legislatures and governors’ mansions, they’ve enacted ever-tighter restrictions in many states. Women accustomed to decades of safe, legal abortions as a right they could count on, have watched that right undermined – until it may be too late, someday soon, to keep it.

Take GA, for example. As it began leaning purple, the newly-elected Republican governor, Brian Kemp, barely defeated the black, female Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, in a race so tight it took days to settle. Kemp ran a very conservative campaign, winning in rural, majority-white counties that supported Donald Trump for President.

Candidate Kemp pledged to enact the toughest abortion restrictions in the country; now he’s honoring that promise. With his support, GA’s legislature is considering a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would outlaw abortions anytime after a physician detects a fetal heartbeat – as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. Other states are deliberating similar measures.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in 1973 (and later court rulings), decreed abortions legal until the fetus is “viable”, defined as “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid”. Justices acknowledged viability may occur at 23 – 24 weeks, sometimes earlier, considering medical advances.

Trump was elected President after stating clearly his Supreme Court appointments would overturn Roe v. Wade. His nomination of two conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, was a step in that direction.

Progressives are still outraged that Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, denied President Obama’s moderate 2016 nominee, Merrick Garland, the courtesy of a hearing (much less a vote) for a year, until Trump took office – so he could appoint a conservative instead.

Clearly, Trump’s anti-abortion stance appealed to many voters, and was at least acceptable to many others – if they were paying attention to this issue.

Trump and Republicans frequently attack Planned Parenthood because it offers abortion as one option in family planning, attempting to drastically reduce its funding – although it provides many women with vital health-care services, not just abortion. Most clients are low-income women and women of color who could not afford those services otherwise.

Polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans believe abortion, with reasonable restrictions, should be legal and safe, allowing women to decide whether to have one – a Moderate position.

Extremists on both sides would be dissatisfied with a Moderate solution. On the left, some want unrestricted abortion access at any time. On the right, some want ALL abortions outlawed, even in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother if she delivers. Some want doctors performing abortions – and women having them – considered criminals and prosecuted. Trump hinted during the campaign that he is closer to that extreme than to the middle on this issue.

As usual, most Americans are somewhere between these two extremes, but with very different beliefs. In our next post, we’ll explore those beliefs and attempt to reconcile them; stay tuned.

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