When I was about 10, Sunday school classes at our Baptist church were replaced for a month by a series of talks about abortion. It was the first time I had ever heard that word; I barely knew how babies were made, much less aborted. Along with my classmates, I was treated to photos of fetuses and to testimonies by church members who had marched in front of abortion clinics. But far from being inspired to sign up for the next protest, my reaction to all of this was skepticism. I just couldn’t believe that women and doctors were running around killing babies for no reason. There had to be another side to this story. It couldn’t be that simple.
My reaction wasn’t much different 12 years later when, as a young Senate aide working on abortion policy, I listened to the arguments of abortion rights lobbyists. Women only sought late-term abortions, they insisted, when something went terribly wrong with their pregnancies, when their fetuses developed severe abnormalities that put their lives at risk. But it couldn’t be that all abortions were absolutely necessary, that no woman ever had an abortion for anything other than the most noble and heart-wrenching reasons. It couldn’t be that simple.
It’s not that simple. And yet for 30 years, abortion politics has required Americans to choose sides. You are either pro-choice or pro-life. If a politician supports a parental notification law, he or she is labeled pro-life by abortion rights supporters. But if the political leader also opposes a “partial-birth abortion” ban, the anti-abortion side will tag him or her as unacceptably pro-choice. There is no word for a middle-ground position in American politics.
That’s unfortunate, because polling consistently shows that more than two-thirds of Americans fall into that middle area, believing that abortion should be available in some, but not all, circumstances.