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"The first thing I'd do as President," Barack Obama told Planned Parenthood in 2007, "is sign the Freedom of Choice Act." The bill would remove almost all state and federal restrictions on abortion. But observers wonder if the anti-abortion movement has enough life in it to successfully fight the legislation or similar measures.

Election Day suggested significant setbacks for pro-life advocates as voters in California, Colorado, and South Dakota rejected ballot measures restricting abortion. Obama's election destroyed hopes that possible Supreme Court appointees would reverse Roe v. Wade. And Planned Parenthood says Congress now has at least 15 fewer pro-life legislators than it did last session.

"I think there's abortion fatigue among the populace for sure," said Cynthia Gorney, a University of California, Berkeley, professor who studies abortion. She found the most obvious signs in South Dakota, where a self-identified pro-life electorate rejected an abortion ban for the second time in two years. Colorado activists failed to amend the state constitution to define person as "any human being from the moment of fertilization," a definition that divided even pro-life advocates. And although 52 percent of Californians voted to ban gay marriage, the same percentage voted no on a parental notification law.

"Redefining marriage is a bigger deal to Americans," said Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers. "It's sort of changing the script of what America is about. People aren't ready to do that."

Signs of fatigue aside, observers agree that abortion will remain a major political issue.

"People are still energized and ready to ...

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In the Magazine

January 2009

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