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Republican Abortion Wars: A Handy Club to Beat Democrats With

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Abortion politics is back. According to the press reports; Republicans began committee work this week on two bills that will expand restrictions on financing for and access to abortions. At the same time the Conservative Political Action Committee begins Thursday with 10,000 ultra-conservatives meeting in Washington. Expect to hear a lot about abortion.

My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. In the 1970s I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical antiabortion Religious Right movement.

As I describe in my book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway I changed my mind. I no longer ride around "saving" America for God, nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days. As I describe in my forthcoming book -- I am also pro-choice. Like most Americans, I am pro-choice but not "pro-abortion."

Something has been lost in the debate: The "sides" aren't clear when it comes to actual people (especially "ordinary" people as opposed to the talking heads). The notion that "most liberals are pro-choice" and that "most conservatives are antiabortion" is simplistic.

Most people don't fit such blanket simplification. The purists on each side refuse to admit that most Americans (if public opinion polls are to be believed) occupy a--sensibly conflicted--middle ground on "the issue." They (like me) want abortion legal-- but don't like it one bit.

A plurality of Americans would like to see stricter limits placed on abortions in the United States. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, only 23 percent of those surveyed called for an end to all abortions. But the split between those who wanted it kept legal without restriction (34 percent)--in other words to maintain the Roe/Bolton status quo--and those who would like to see more restrictions (41 percent) was tilted against Roe.

Thus, almost forty years after Roe v. Wade a whopping 61 percent of the American public (including many who are pro-choice) have negative views about the abortion laws--as they stand.

The Republicans want to take advantage of this natural ambivalence. So it is well to look at their record as they launch their next round of anti-abortion activism.

The thing most Americans don't know is that the Republicans actually love abortion: as a means of political manipulation that is.

The politics of the antiabortion movement became -- and is -- about everything but saving babies. I know, I raised millions of dollars "fighting for life." Just as the Far Right used abortion as a handy stick with which to beat up on Obama during the 2008 election, so, too, other far right Republicans used abortion when they were in power to do everything but help women. They will again.

Welcome to round two of the culture wars

The Republicans already had their chance. They dominated Congress and the White house off and on over almost a 40 year period after abortion was legalized. How did they use that time?

If the Republicans had wanted to prevent abortions, they would have:

  • funded a thorough and mandatory sex education initiative from the earliest grades in all schools and combined it with the distribution of free contraceptives in all high schools, public and private (religious schools included).
  • legislated generous family leave for both mothers and fathers
  • provided federally funded day care as a national priority
  • expanded adoption services, including encouraging gay parents to adopt children
  • encouraged gay couples to marry and adopt
  • provided a generous tax incentive to have children and direct financial assistance and educational opportunities for all families, including single parents
  • raised taxes to pay for these programs
  • not equated stem cell research with abortion, much less with murder, thereby making the antiabortion position patently ridiculous...

Above all - since over 40 percent of all abortions in America are done on women under the poverty line -- the Republicans would have addressed the injustice of the growing gap between the superrich and everyone else and fought to raise the living standards of poor people.

What the Republicans did instead was misuse abortion--again and again and again and again--as a polarizing issue to energize their base.

They are about to do that again... with a vengeance.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His forthcoming book is -- Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway