Of course, one could argue that there is actually no room for common ground on the abortion debate, since one side believes that the unborn is a human being with rights and the other side denies the status of the unborn as well as its rights.
But could there be a political reason why the pro-life side has such a hard time making legal progress? Anne Hendershott thinks so.
In The Politics of Abortion (Encounter, 2006), Hendershott documents much of the history of the political debate over abortion in the United States. She makes the case that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision effectively radicalized the abortion debate by denying pro-lifers the ordinary tools of politics.
We remain deadlocked in a divisive culture war, Hendershott says. And unfortunately, the Democratic Party has abandoned its traditional position as the champion of the underdog and instead embraced the pro-abortion stance for financial gain.
Hendershott recounts a 1964 meeting with several members of the Kennedy family. The meeting took place with clergy who made the case that one could be a good Catholic and still vote for abortion rights.
But the Kennedys are not alone. Hendershott puts together a long list of prominent politicians who were at one time pro-life, but who abandoned pro-life convictions for political expediency. On the list? Bill Clinton. Al Gore. Jesse Jackson. Ted Kennedy. (I was astonished at some of the pro-life quotes from these men!)
Hendershott shows that by the 1980’s, the “pro-choice elites” had hijacked the Democratic Party. Yet even then, Governor Bill Clinton was still telling the people in Arkansas that he opposed abortion and government funding. By the 1990’s, the Democratic party’s pro-choice identity was sealed. Robert Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was not even allowed to speak at the Democratic National Convention.
Does Hendershott believe we will see a Democratic turn around on the abortion issue? Not quite. She writes:
“It is likely that the Democrats will indeed keep their commitment to the right to unlimited abortion on demand, if for no other reason than the fact that they party cannot afford to lose the money that the abortion groups raise for it.” (28)
Hendershott focuses not only on Democrats. She demonstrates how the politics of abortion are linked to the politics of race. She exposes the views of Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) who argued for eugenics and a view of inferior races that at times comes closer to the Hindu caste system than anything American.
Hendershott also picks apart some of the faulty rhetoric (and sometimes outright lies) put forth by abortion advocates. An oft-quoted statistic is that abortion increased nationwide during President Bush’s time in office. The problem with that statistic is that it is demonstrably false.
The beginning of the book is quite depressing. To see people sacrifice the unborn on the altar of political ambition is enough to make the reader nauseous.
And yet, the second half of the book turns hopeful. Hendershott shows that a robust debate over abortion is taking place on college campuses. She also documents the many grassroots pro-life initiatives that have been changing hearts and minds. It seems that these recent developments are creating an environment in which the abortion wars may one day come to an end.
If you wonder why the abortion issue is brought up every election cycle, then you will benefit from The Politics of Abortion. Hendershott exposes the financial interests at stake.
This book also serves as a warning to those of us who might be tempted to sell out our Christian convictions for political leverage. We should always be wary of political movements that seek to co-opt religious terminology or leadership in order to establish a better case for one position, whether on the right or the left of the political spectrum.