"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 fight a radical agenda on abortion as it comes down the pipe," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.
Polls and other research suggest that younger evangelicals are more supportive of abortion restrictions than older evangelicals are. A 2007 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 70 percent of younger white evangelicals favor "making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion," compared with 55 percent of older white evangelicals.
Yet evangelicals under age 35 are shaped by growing up in an era of legalized abortion, said Charles Colson. "Younger evangelicals remain pro-life, but I don't think they have the same fire in the belly about the issue that older evangelicals have had," he said.
The rate of abortions is at its lowest since 1973, when the Supreme Court abolished most state laws against it. In 2005, 19.4 per 1,000 women had an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, but the number—1.2 million in 2005—has stayed relatively the same since the 1970s.
During his campaign, Obama spoke several times about reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, increasing adoption options, and providing support for single mothers who wish to keep their children. Anti-abortion activists like Melinda Delahoyde, president of Care Net, are waiting to see if those efforts include her network of 1,100 local pregnancy centers.
"Let's just say we want to see what happens," said Delahoyde. "He talks about inclusion—bringing people to the table. Are we going to be asked to that table?"
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