Four decades after Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, many opponents of the decision are in a celebratory mood while those backing abortion rights are glum, feeling that momentum is turning decisively against them.
Yet in reality, little has changed in the fiercest and most protracted battle of the nation's bitter culture war.
Instead, what's really going on is a case study in the psychology of movement politics, where activists have to rally supporters with cries of alarm without making them despair that all is lost. At the same time, they must offer evidence that their efforts are paying off without leaving them complacent.
It's a difficult balancing act, and lately the abortion rights camp has been the one to sound the warnings.
"As memories of women dying from illegal pre-Roe abortions become more distant, the pro-choice cause is in crisis," Kate Pickert wrote in a bleak—for Roe supporters—and eye-catching Time magazine cover essay this month.
Pickert pointed to the growing number of state-level actions to restrict access to abortion services—the Guttmacher Institute's annual review found that in 2012 there were 43 such provisions in 19 state laws—and the decrease in abortion providers nationwide, from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,793 in 2008.
Pregnancy centers run by conservative Christians as alternatives to abortion clinics have been proliferating as well, and there have been concerted—and often successful—efforts to cut or bar government funding of Planned Parenthood.
Moreover, the abortion rights movement is facing a generational divide, as younger women try to take the reins from aging leaders who they see as ...1
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