BOCA RATON, FL - OCTOBER 22: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a debate with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University on October 22, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida. The focus for the final presidential debate before Election Day on November 6 is foreign policy. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
The Democratic Party is counting on abortion as its magic bullet issue of 2012. In her race against Joe Walsh, 8th District congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth is running ads calling her opponent “extreme” for opposing abortion even if a woman’s life in danger.
At a Senate debate in Indiana, Republican nominee Richard Mourdock expressed his opposition to abortion by saying that if a baby is conceived during rape, “God intended it.” The Democrats immediately condemned the comments as “outrageous and demeaning to women.”
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod compared Mourdock to Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who said abortion isn’t necessary in the case of rape because, “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that down.” Today’s lead story on Salon is a fright piece entitled “How Roe Could Go: Slowly but surely, a Romney presidency would lay the groundwork to ban abortion.”
None of this may be as effective as the Democrats hope. Why? I remember something Ralph Nader said when he was asked about abortion during his 2000 run for the presidency.
“It’s a settled issue,” Nader said. “It’s like public accommodations.”
(If you’re not of Nader’s generation, that refers to blacks being allowed to eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels and sit wherever they want in movie theaters.)
Last week, The Atlantic’s Molly Ball met Eileen and Zebib, two soccer moms whose children attend a private Christian school in Virginia.
Unlike their more conservative cohorts, these women agreed that abortion is not any of the federal government's business. But they also didn't believe abortion rights were on the line in the coming election. "It has never changed," Zebib said. "We've had pro-life presidents many times, and it didn't change. It's a bumper sticker. They try to divert our attention."
Eileen touched her friend's arm. "Most women I know, whether they're for Obama or Romney, they feel the same thing," she said. "It's a distraction. That whole Gloria Steinem thing is old."
There is a sense that Republicans pay lip service to the pro-life movement to satisfy their religious right voters, but have no intention of banning the procedure, because they know it would cost them moderate voters for a generation. Roe v. Wade was handed down nearly 40 years ago, which means that no woman of childbearing age has had to face pregnancy without the option of abortion. Abortion is an institution, as well-established as the right to vote. Women can’t imagine an America without it.