(RNS) When Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul was asked about abortion in the tough cases of rape and incest, he volleyed back a question to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Does she support the “killing” of a “seven-pound baby that is not born yet?”
Schultz’s response: That is a decision for a woman and her doctor.
Forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, the nation’s two major parties are more entrenched than ever regarding the question of abortion rights. It is inconceivable that the Republicans would nominate a candidate who fails to support legislation protecting the rights of those in the womb. Likewise, the Democrats will not nominate a candidate who doesn’t believe in easing access to abortion in virtually all stages of pregnancy.
Charles Camosy, associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, believes the partisanship surrounding abortion is unfortunate. The truth is, most Americans occupy a middle ground — a majority that neither opposes abortion in all cases nor supports its legality for virtually any reason. In his book, “Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation,” Camosy writes that we are not in a hopeless stalemate over abortion. “A majority of Americans actually agree about broad ideas with respect to abortion morality and law.”
Camosy’s work is fresh because he wrestles not only with the morality of abortion, but also the social structures that make abortion so common. For example, Camosy shows why it is not surprising that more women than men support laws restricting abortion. Why shouldn’t they when abortion practices serve the interests of men and have resulted in a society in which a woman may often feel “expected” to abort? So much for freedom!
Camosy’s “way forward” is the Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act. This policy does three main things: It gives legal recognition to the prenatal child, offers protection and support for the mother, and allows for certain abortive procedures in rare circumstances.
The details of the policy include changing the social structures of society so that the choice to carry a pregnancy to term is less of a burden for women today.
Camosy believes the time is ripe for change: When it comes to abortion in the second and third trimesters, the tide has turned against abortion on demand, especially among younger Americans and Hispanics.
I appreciate Camosy’s incremental approach to reducing abortion, but I am less optimistic that we are on the verge of major change. One reason public opinion is unlikely to break through the hardened positions of both parties is because the media coverage of the abortion issue is so often one-sided. Camosy compares the shifting tide of pro-life activism to society’s growing support of same-sex marriage.
But there is a crucial difference between those two causes: on gay marriage, media coverage is largely framed around the “right” to marry, while on abortion, coverage is largely framed around “reproductive choice,” not the human right to life.
This brings me back to Paul. When Paul tossed a question back to a Democratic spokeswoman, he was doing what reporters rarely, if ever, do: He was asking a pro-choice activist a hard question.
Every candidate gets asked about abortion in extreme and difficult circumstances (rape or incest). Remember Todd Akin who, answering a question about allowing abortions in the case of rape, answered: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”?
But when was the last time you saw reporters ask an abortion rights candidate if they worry about what The Economist in 2010 named “gendercide,” the rise of abortion based solely on the sex of the baby?
When was the last time a reporter asked a candidate why he or she supports unrestricted abortion access in the second and third trimester, when upwards of 70 percent of Americans do not?
When have you seen a candidate asked about their implicit support for eugenics and what it says about our society when we screen out and consign Down syndrome children to an early demise?
When Paul said it makes no sense for the Democratic Party to support the killing of a seven-pound unborn baby while we have one- and two-pound babies born prematurely who can survive outside the womb, he was merely doing what most reporters won’t. He was pushing abortion rights activism to its logical extreme.
Camosy may have identified a way forward “beyond the abortion wars,” but it’s unlikely to get very far until reporters gather up some courage and ask tough questions of candidates on both sides of this debate. Let’s hope this time around there are some real reporters out there.
(Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.”)
YS/AMB END WAX