The XX Factor

Culture War Flashback

Just when you thought the right was dead or dormant, and it was safe to say the word “abortion” on the campus of a Catholic university, reality hit back hard. In his commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame yesterday, President Obama said all the right things (clips of the speech are below). He acknowledged “admirable” convictions on all sides. He said abortion had heavy moral and spiritual consequences. He did not stop at the old tepid “safe, legal, and rare” but took it one step further, saying he wanted to work to reduce unintended pregnancies, and make adoption easier. Still, a woman outside called him ” the worst baby killer in the nation.”

So is the culture war back? To argue this, people point to the surprising Gallup poll that came out last week. For the first time since 1995, a majority of Americans (51 percent) call themselves pro-life . The number has jumped seven points since last year, with women making up the bulk of the increase. Seven points? Doesn’t that seem like a lot? What could have changed in a year that would account for such a big jump? Well, politics of course. “Pro-life” and “pro-choice” have become political labels, much like Republican and Democrat. My suspicion is that those numbers reflect a counter-balance to Obama, and nothing more-not a change in people’s morality, or advances in science, or anything else that might actually shift opinion on abortion.

There is another more important Gallup question that asks whether abortion should be legal or illegal under any or certain circumstances. This is not merely a label but gets closer to real life circumstance. Except for a blip during the culture war of the early ‘90s, responses to this one have not shifted much at all. Twenty-three percent say legal under all circumstances, 22 say illegal under all, and 53 percent say legal under certain circumstances-essentially the same percentage as in 1975.