Andrew Thompson of the Gen-X Rising blog has a dilemma. He likes a lot of what he hears from Barack Obama's campaign:
I think the Democrats are more in touch with some of our pressing problems, including healthcare, the environment, the economy, and U.S. relationships with other nations. Plus, I like Obama. True, I wish he had more national political experience. But I think he reasons well (one of the greatest political skills required of a president), and I think he will surround himself with those who can help make up for some of his areas of inexperience (e.g., his selection of Joe Biden to bolster his understanding of foreign policy). You can go down the list of issues, and in this election at least, I will check off with the Democrats on just about every issue - save one.
That one issue is abortion, and it is extremely important to Andrew — so important that he is not sure he can vote for Obama.
I understand his dilemma. I've always considered myself pro-life, and in 1992 I wrestled with this very issue when I was trying to decide whether to vote for Bill Clinton. One of the things that gave me comfort back then was Clinton's pledge that he wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. As it turns out, the number of abortions did drop during seven of his eight years in office, and the overall drop was greater than that of the Reagan and Bush (Sr.) years, whether measured in absolute numbers or in percentages.
In 2004 Glen Stassen, ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, made headlines when he published a study that appeared to show that abortion rates, after falling for two decades, had begun to rise again since George W. Bush took office. Stassen's study was based on incomplete data, and the additional data that has been gathered since does not support Stassen's conclusions. Data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute show a continued decline in the abortion rate at least through 2005. I haven't seen more recent data than that.
What are we to conclude from all this? Personally, I think the only conclusion that can be safely drawn at this point is that politicians and their views on this issue don't really influence the abortion rate. It rose rapidly from 1973 to 1980, then began a slow and steady decline.
One point Andrew makes in his post is that if the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, it would lead to a much greater reduction in abortions than this slow, steady decline. Frankly, I'm skeptical that the Republicans even want to overturn Roe v. Wade: Although the last three Republican presidents have said they opposed the 1973 ruling, they all maintained that they didn't make it a litmus test for their Court appointees. I have to believe they meant it. Six of the nine current Supreme Court justices were appointed by Reagan and the two Bushes, and despite a number of challenges, Roe v. Wade is still here.
The area where the Court has overturned precedents is in the area of corporate liability. In case after case, the Court has ruled that corporations should not be held responsible for the damage the cause, especially after the arrival of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. John McCain has promised to appoint more of the same. I don't see any reason to imagine the Court will overturn abortion law, but I see every reason to believe that more Republican appointees will mean less recourse for victims of corporate malfeasance.
On the other hand, I do believe there are ways to dramatically decrease the abortion rate, but it will require simultaneous effort on a number of fronts. The 95-10 Initiative from a group known as Democrats for Life seems to me to be a solid approach. If we as a society can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, we will reduce the number of abortions. If we as a society can help women who might keep the baby if they thought they could afford it, or who think they can't raise a child on their own, they might be more likely not just to bring the pregnancy to term, but to provide a better environment for the child growing up. Nearly half of all women who have abortions say they either can't afford to raise a child or can't handle the responsibility, so providing a community support network would have a large impact on the abortion rate, and it wouldn't require waiting and hoping for nine people in black robes in Washington D.C. to decide a previous generation's court decision was a mistake.