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Although Roe v. Wade was in 1973, many politicians treat abortion as a modern day issue.  Birth control and family planning as well as women’s health rights and choices were major issues in the 2012 presidential election.  Abortion, specifically, is an emotional and religious issue that continues to come up in presidential, congressional and state elections.

When it comes to abortion, there are two categories in which people place themselves.  Pro-life and Pro-choice are both values laden terms that carry emotional weight. Pro-choice came first.  After Roe v. Wade, those who valued a woman’s right to choose deemed themselves pro-choice.  Because its better to be pro-something than anti-something, the term “pro-life” was adopted soon after, instead of “anti-abortion.”  This was done to highlight the belief that abortion is an issue regarding taking a human life, rather than an issue concerning the restriction of women’s reproductive rights.  These terms have made it even more clear that there isn’t one obvious side to choose on the abortion issue.

In the world of issue owning, democrats have positioned themselves as the party for women’s rights.  In 1976, the Democratic Party platform supported the decision of Roe v. Wade.  The reverse was true for the Republicans.  Starting in 1980, every single Republican Presidential nominee has called for the reversal of the Supreme Court decision.  However, many politicians did not always fall under their party’s view of abortion and women’s rights.  In 1996, “only 85% of the Democratic House candidates favoried the continuation of abortion rights, while 15% took an anti-abortion position.”  Furthermore, “77% of the 1996 house members identified themselves as prolife, and 13% supported Roe v. Wade.” (1)

Many call abortion, “the issue of irresistible force.”  However, although many believe that abortion is very black and white, it turns out that the public holds a collectively moderate position on the issue.  The conflicting ambivalence comes from the valies of both “an emergent fetal life and women’s moral autonomy” (2).  In fact, the median voter, when asked about what they think about abortion, replies, “it depends.”

The issue evolved by moderate candidates on the issue being replaced by candidates who held more extreme positions on abortion.  Over time, abortion voting diverged to be very black and white among party lines.  This is when the abortion issue took on a very partisan light and these attitudes transferred t public opinion.  In the 1970’s, the correlation between abortion attitudes and partisanship was .07; in 2004 it was -.24.  This sharp change was caused by older conflicted voter being replaced by younger voters with a more consistent attitude.  Eventually, candidates were persuaded to take a stance on abortion along their party lines.

It would be safe to predict that because of the strong partisan tie, that abortion attitudes may lead to partisan changes.  However, “according to the 7-point National Election Studies scale, those who believe that abortion should never be allowed increase their Republican identification just .3 points more than those who believe that abortion should be allowed all the time” (2).  However, instead of measuring if abortion makes people stronger in their already identified political party, the study conducted by Mitchell Killian and Clyde Wilcox at the University of Utah looked into weather or not the switch toward a more partisan stance on abortion has caused people to switch parties.

The survey was conducted by asking the following question over a period of 14 years: Image

 The results of the experiment show that issue evolution revolving abortion has taken place.  Abortion was “polarized by political elites” starting in the mid-1800s and continued through the 1900s.  Overall, the public picked up on this overwhelmingly and began switching parties accordingly.  In the mid-1900s, pro-life attitudes pushed democrats over to the republican side.  However, in the 1994-96 years, pro choice republicans were more likely to become democrats.  This happened during the time that republicans first introduced “legislation to ban intact dilation and extraction abortions” (2).  This data shows that the mid 90’s was a time when “abortion attitudes affected partisanship” (2).

From Wendy Davis’ filibuster to Hillary Clinton’s international initiatives, abortion is still the forefront of political talk.  However, with the terms now set and the partisan owning established, what will continue the evolution of the abortion argument.  Because the issue has not changed, the deciding factor will continue to be the way that the argument is presented.  While republicans continue to push that abortion is an issue about life and compassion, democrats are starting to call them on their stuff.

Democrats are owning the issues leading up to and coming after the decision of abortion. The United States has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world.(3)  In fact, 3 out of every 10 American girls will be pregnant at least once before her 20th birthday.”  There are many economical problems with teen pregnancy that range from welfare to correctional systems.  “Teenage mothers are less likely to finish high school are more likely than their peers to live in poverty, depend on public health assistance and be in poor health.” (3)

Family planning is a completely democratically owned issue.  Free access to birth control is the number one controversy over Obama’s Universal Health Care Bill.  While Republicans are not for free access to birth control, they also do not support the welfare programs that may help these teen mothers after they opt out of the abortion option.
The pro-choice movement has re branded itself.  Not only do they want to give women the right to chose, they also want to prevent the woman from ever having to choose.  Republicans have yet to come up with a well though-out rebuttal, and democrats are re framing the issue to basically say, “republicans aren’t helping young women prevent pregnancy, they’re not letting them choose while they’re pregnant, and they’re not helping them with their living after their baby is born.”
The issue has been taken to a whole new level and will continue to evolve and cause the public to change the way they think about the issue.

1. When Parties and Candidates Collide: Citizen Perception of House Candidates’ Positions on Abortion

Jeffrey W. Koch

The Public Opinion Quarterly , Vol. 65, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 1-21

2. Do Abortion Attitudes Lead to Party Switching?

Mitchell Killian and Clyde Wilcox

Political Research Quarterly , Vol. 61, No. 4 (Dec., 2008), pp. 561-573

3. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2002). Facts Sheet: Teen Sexual Activity. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/youthhivstds/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=1353

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