April 16, 2014 — The "political staying power" of abortion rights is rooted in the fundamental difference between opponents who view it as "an issue of life and death" and "pro-choice women," for whom abortion "is a question of personal autonomy and bodily integrity," New York Times op-ed contributor Thomas Edsall writes.
Edsall, an author and professor of journalism at Columbia University, compares the issue of abortion rights to same-sex marriage -- another "foundational issu[e] of American conservatism" -- and explores how the former, "as a political call to arms, has been around twice as long and shows no signs of disappearing." By contrast, same-sex marriage "burst onto the political scene in the early 1990s, lasted through the mid-2000s, and is now quietly fading," according to Edsall.
Meanwhile, abortion has remained a controversial political issue, with 205 antiabortion-rights state laws enacted between 2011 and 2013, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Edsall writes. To analyze the issue's political endurance, Edsall cites comments from a "disparate group of contemporary experts," who link abortion's staying power in politics to its dual role as a "core political issue and a core evolutionary issue."
However, at the same time, the U.S. public has largely become more accepting of women's sexual freedom, Edsall writes, citing various surveys on issues such as unmarried cohabitation and sex outside of marriage.
"Despite these trends and survey findings, Republican-controlled statehouses continue to press for new restrictions on abortion," and the GOP on the national level "with its strong anti-abortion contingent could be headed toward a major victory this coming November," Edsall writes, noting that many election analysts predict the GOP will maintain control of the House, potentially win the Senate, and -- in 2016 -- the White House.
"In that event, the drive to restrict abortion -- perhaps, initially, incrementally -- may well re-emerge" in the "legislative and executive branches, but also in the Supreme Court," should one of the liberal justices retire and be replaced by a conservative jurist, Edsall writes. He concludes, "With all of their demographic problems, the question is, how much can Republicans afford to fool around with this particular kind of political dynamite?" (Edsall, New York Times, 4/15).