Following up on Dana's and Scott's posts debunking the increasingly circulated myth that American public opinion is trending away from favoring legal abortion, my inbox is full of press releases and other assorted trumpeting of said myth. Sample: "New Gallup Poll: Obama on Collision Course with Public Opinion on Abortion Policy." (That's from the Susan B. Anthony List -- the anti-abortion movement's answer to Emily's List -- which supported and continues to support the political rise of Sarah Palin.)
In his efforts to to find "common ground" on reducing the need for abortion, Obama has failed to offer the values-laden rhetorical support for his pro-choice position, opting instead, at least for the moment, to conduct listening sessions on the issue through the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP). The religious "common ground" voices are well-positioned in the OFBNP and have grumbled, for example, about Obama's reversal of the global gag rule. That reversal was a victory for global reproductive health, because it lifted U.S. funding restrictions on clinics abroad that offered both contraceptives and abortion services. In other words, to "punish" them for offering safe abortion, the global gag rule also squeezed funding for the very services that would prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place. Without safe abortion services, as our own Michelle Goldberg showed in her book, The Means of Reproduction, women around the globe are forced into tragic and often fatal choices.
When Obama reversed the rule in January, he got a lot of kudos for not issuing the executive order on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when anti-choice activists descend on Washington for their March for Life. He signed the executive order quietly on a Friday afternoon and was praised for not sticking it to his political adversaries.
One of the data points from the recent polls is the low (35 percent, according to a Gallup poll taken at the end of January) public support for Obama's reversal of the global gag rule. But is this because Americans oppose abortion, or because Obama hasn't made the case for his action? Obama could have, but hasn't, made a forceful moral argument for birth control and safe, legal abortion as the basis for his repeal of the global gag rule. Instead, he seems uncomfortably cornered when asked about legal abortion, resorting to framing it as the moral question women face when deciding whether to continue with an unintended pregnancy. He has not framed the question as our moral obligation to provide safe and effective medical services to women, and has not argued that our failure to do so is immoral.