Abortion stance vital to voters in close election race



Americans are divided over the issue of Abortion

By Madeleine Supple

Abortion is one of the most controversial topics in US politics. A Gallup poll shows that one in six people will only vote for candidates who share their opinion on abortion. In a close election race like this, which candidate will win over voters?

In the run up to the 2012 US election, the issue of abortion and its importance to female voters has risen significantly. A poll by USA Today found that nearly four in 10 women cited it as the most important matter. The nominees have had to address the issue far more than in previous elections.  In 2008 only 13% of voters said the candidate must share their views on abortion, compared to 17% today.

Another significant factor in the abortion debate is religion. A Gallup poll in May 2012 found 78% of Americans identified themselves as Christian and 51% think abortion is ‘morally wrong.’ The Al Smith Dinner, a white tie fundraiser that raises money for Catholic charities is seen as the last opportunity before the election for the two presidential candidates to go head-to-head. The views of the Democratic Party are often in direct conflict with those of the Catholic Church, particularly on the issue of abortion.

The 2012 Al Smith Dinner was no different. Whilst Obama made an effort to steer clear of mentioning any friction with the Catholic Church, Romney took the opportunity to make light-hearted jabs at his opponent’s position on abortion. Additionally, Cardinal Dolan laid out his concerns for “the unwanted, the unwed mother, and the innocent, fragile unborn baby in her womb” and was rewarded with applause from the pro-life audience, presenting Obama as someone representing a minority view.

Abortion and Healthcare

In recent years, the source of much debate has been the impact of religion on healthcare practitioners. In 1991, there were more than 2000 abortion clinics in the US; in 2012 the number of clinics is now down to fewer than 700. With increasing numbers of pro-life supporters and changing legislation in different states, many clinics have closed down or have made the process of getting an abortion much harder.

“I vote democratic primarily because of issues related to health and education,” said Patricia Burke, professor of nursing at Queensborough Community College in New York. “I believe that a woman has the right to choose; however, if a healthcare practitioner’s religious values contradict abortion, they should have the option not to participate.”

A Gallup poll from August shows that 52% of Americans concede that abortion should be legal under some circumstances, such as if a mother’s life is at risk, the baby has a birth defect or if there is a case of rape or incest.

However, Republican candidate Todd Akin, running for Senate in Missouri caused outrage back in August when he said in a television interview, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” This statement only complicated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s flip-flop stance on abortion, and reinforced what has been termed ‘a war on women.’

President Barack Obama, a pro-choice president and an advocate for women’s healthcare access, described the words of Todd Akin as ‘offensive.’

“We shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, the majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women,” Obama said.

Two people protesting on the issue

The politics of Planned Parenthood

In early 2011, the Republican-held House of Representatives passed the Pence Amendment, which aimed to stop federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other health organisations.

A statement by Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that this would prevent access to contraception, life-saving cancer screenings and STI testing to those who depend on the service.

“It is difficult to understand why people who say they are opposed to abortion would do so much to undermine the family planning and contraception that helps prevent the need for it,” she said.

The US Senate overturned the amendment, but it has not prevented bills combatting women’s health from being introduced in all 50 states of America in what the Planned Parent Action Fund has claimed as “the most relentless attack on women’s health in 40 years.” This is not the first time women’s health has been controversial during a presidential election cycle.

The “Mexico City Policy”

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan enacted the “Mexico City Policy” which ensured that all non-government organisations that receive federal funding do not provide, or in any way promote abortion services.It is one of the most disputed policies in modern American history. Rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993, it was reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001. In early 2009, Obama overturned the policy yet again. If elected, Mitt Romney has indicated that he would reinstate the policy again.

Romney flip-flops on the issue of abortion. In 2002, while running for Governor of Massachusetts, Romney claimed to be pro- choice stating, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose”.However, in February, 2012, he told an Ohio news station, “I’m in favour of a pro-life policy,” going on to say that his key decisions as president would be to “stop funding for Planned Parenthood, reinstituting the Mexico City Policy,” and to “reverse Roe v. Wade.”

In January, 1973, one of the most controversial judgements that ever came down from the United States Supreme Court came in the form of Roe v. Wade, which saw the legalisation of abortions in the US.

Romney claimed in an interview with the Des Moines Register in October, 2012 that, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”His ever-changing stance has prodded the media to brand Romney as ‘multiple-choice’ on the issue of abortion.

“He is hiding positions he’s been campaigning on for a year and a half,” Obama said of Romney.

Despite his wavering stances on abortion, recent polls suggest that Romney is gaining ground amongst women and narrowing the gap between himself and Obama.

Gallup opinion polls indicate that this is going to be a close race, and the candidates’ treatment of the issue of abortion could be central to a successful presidential campaign.

Listen to our briefing on abortion policies in the US.