When columnist Robert Kuttner writes on politics and economics, I pay attention. Kuttner, a liberal, acknowledges that the vaunted Invisible Hand can indeed produce a booming economy, but he is quick to point out it is no guarantee of a humane and just community.
But even the most sensible of men can be wrong, which is exactly what Bob Kuttner was, recently, when he wrote about the language of abortion: "All of us can be described as pro-life. Most Americans don't like abortion but don't consider it as murder ..." That's just not right. In fact, it's dead wrong.
In a June 2000 Los Angeles Times poll of 2,071 adults nationwide, the question was asked, "Do you agree or disagree with this statement: 'Abortion is murder'?" Pretty straightforward, you would have to agree. The answer: 57 percent of those surveyed agreed that "abortion is murder," while 36 percent disagreed. Among women (abortion, we are regularly told, is a woman's issue from which men would do well to butt out), 61 percent judged abortion to be murder.
That result jibed with an earlier New York Times national poll, which reported the nation's turmoil over the abortion issue: "At base, the country remains irreconcilably riven over what many consider the most divisive American issue since slavery, with half the population considering abortion murder." Add to the findings of the two Times polls the Newsweek magazine survey of late 1998, which asked, "Do you personally believe that abortion is wrong?" In our relentlessly non-judgmental society, a solid majority 56 percent to 36 percent admitted they personally judged abortion to be wrong.
Because of the three organizations that published those poll results all certified in the American press establishment the numbers cannot be ridiculed as right-wing propaganda. Still, the findings are largely ignored by most of my brothers and sisters in the Washington press corps, many of whom do not know well anyone professionally or socially who is pro-life on abortion. This is not because most Washington journalists are two-timing, liberal double agents conniving to elect more pro-choice Democrats to office. Instead, it is because regardless of whether they favor or oppose tax cuts or a patients' bill of rights an almost unanimous majority of the Washington press corps is culturally to the left of most of the country on abortion, gay rights and sexual freedoms.
The Washington press corps qualifies for membership in the contemporary secular elite, which while not blatantly anti-faith, does harbor a strong preference for a national leader with a religion that is so private he wouldn't even impose it upon himself. Unfettered self-expression and unlimited individual economy, neither of which imposes any inconvenient civic obligations, constitute the organizing dogma of the secular elite.
Americans remain profoundly ambivalent about abortion. Lydia Saad, the respected managing editor of the Gallup Poll, has just completed a definitive study of all major and minor polls conducted over the last five years on abortion. She has found Americans almost equally divided on whether they call themselves pro-life or pro-choice. But what Saad sees is a definite consensus among both groups on when abortion ought to be acceptable or unacceptable.
Saad notes that, "One-sided majorities including most pro-choice people decisively oppose abortion in the second trimester and third trimester, and all groups are emphatically opposed to partial birth abortion." At the same time, large majorities, including pro-life people, favor legal abortion in the cases of rape or incest, or the life or physical health of the mother. "On all of these," says Saad, "there exists a solid consensus of both pro-life and pro-choice Americans."
My own preferred formulation: Americans are pro-choice but anti-abortion, showing an unwillingness to prosecute as a criminal a woman who after consultation with her conscience, her pastor and her physician, might make that painful and awful decision. But no semi-sane office seeker will run this year or next on the pledge: I will fight for more and more abortions.
We all have our blind spots. The Washington press corps is mostly blind about abortion and about the fact that most of their fellow citizens strongly oppose what is called abortion on demand, that is surgical termination of the pregnancy at any time for whatever reason. Most also do favor a waiting period and parental consent before the serious surgery of abortion.
What we have now, it must be obvious, is "a minority imposing its will upon the majority."
Mark Shields is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.