10/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Follow-Up Question Charlie Gibson Failed To Ask

What about birth control, Mr. Gibson? After asking Sarah Palin if she opposes abortion, did it occur to you that the logical follow-up would be to ask her about her opposition to birth control? Perhaps not widely known because it is not widely reported, the fact is, the same folks who oppose abortion just as adamantly oppose contraception, the primary means to decrease the rate of abortion.

Too often the media focus has been very narrow, failing to convey the broader picture. Issues are effectively reported using talking points and framing that is developed in right-wing think tanks for the purpose of distortion and distraction. The media thrives on controversy and sensationalism. Approached superficially, the issue of abortion provides both.

The easily sensationalized issue of abortion has been wielded by the political right as diversion from a much broader agenda, which lies below the radar. At root, the political litmus test of abortion serves as code for a broad spectrum of issues. Theirs is a 19th century religio-socioeconomic ideal of U.S. Christian nativism, criminalized contraception and abortion, and disenfranchisement of women and minorities.

It has been noted that many young Catholic women are supporting McCain-Palin, many undoubtedly unaware of history. Not only are contraception and abortion important to women's health and lives, it is significant that the highest abortion rates are reported among Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants, those churches most vocally opposed to contraception. (The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior: The First Broad-Scale Scientific National Survey Since Kinsey, Samuel S. Janus, PhD, Cynthia L. Janus, M.D., 1993)

Truthfully, the media has been remiss, failing to illuminate the history of women's health care in the U.S. As a result, many remain unaware that abortion was not criminalized in the U.S. until 1869, when the nascent medical society moved to make abortion illegal unless the procedure was done by a doctor, in part to eliminate competition from midwives who at the time provided much reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception.

Women's access to reproductive health care was affected by demographic concerns raised in 19th century America within the white Protestant population, as well as among Catholics. Largely unknown is the fact that from the 13th century until 1869, the historic Catholic Church accepted abortion until "quickening" (felt fetal movement) or prior to "ensoulment." The Catholic theory of "ensoulment" traceable to the Middle Ages, also served to reinforce women's subordinate status, holding that a male fetus attained human form, and therefore a soul, about forty days after conception, a process half as long as for a female.

The politicization has so obfuscated the issue of abortion that many are unaware that there is no biblical mention of abortion. Jesuit scholar John Connery wrote of the history of abortion: "If anyone expects to find an explicit condemnation of abortion in the New Testament he will be disappointed. The silence of the New Testament regarding abortion surpasses even that of the Old Testament." Most Biblical scholars agree with Baptist theologian Paul D. Simmons that there is no clear biblical prohibition against abortion, though abortion was common when the Jewish and Christian scriptures were written.

The fact is that abortion has been common throughout history. At the time the Constitution was written, recipe books contained recipes for abortifacients.

The effort to erase the history of women's health care effectively renders women invisible. Plea to the media: could we inject some reality into our political dialogue?