by Rod D. Martin
November 12, 2003

It’s been a bad year for Faye Wattleton. And she has her own extremism to thank for it.

On November 5, President Bush signed into law what Bill Clinton had vetoed repeatedly — a ban on partial-birth abortion. It had no trouble passing both houses of Congress, no threatened Democrat filibusters: in fact, even Clinton’s vetoes had been sustained by the barest of margins.

Why? Because the shrillness of its supporters notwithstanding, partial-birth abortion is something only the fringe of the fringe could love. In this “medical” procedure, a doctor pulls the live baby feet first out of the womb, punctures its skull with scissors, inserts a hollow tube into the wound, and then sucks out the baby’s brain. Not just any baby either: a nine-month baby, a baby that feels everything the “doctor” does.

Even the pro-abortion American Medical Association has called this “barbaric”. And, not surprisingly, Americans overwhelmingly oppose this detestable violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

But for rabid pro-abortionists — who continue to defend partial-birth as a vital “women’s right” — the ban is far from the worst of the story.

In June, Wattleton, the former Planned Parenthood president, found herself in the distinctly uncomfortable position of announcing a real shocker: the new pro-life majority among women.

Mark Stricherz details this 140-page report on women’s opinions in the August 4-11 issue of The Weekly Standard. Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted the study on behalf of the Center for the Advancement of Women, a feminist group led by Wattleton.

The study shows a dramatic erosion of everything Wattleton has ever worked for. As she bemoans in the introduction, “there is significant and growing support for severe restrictions on abortion rights.”

Of the 3,329 women surveyed, 51% would ban abortion altogether or limit it to cases of rape, incest, or the endangering of the mother’s life. Another 17% still want abortion available, but with significant restrictions.

Translation: In ever-increasing numbers, women want a pro-life America.

And it doesn’t stop there. The study divided women into six groups, ranging from traditionalists on the right to radical feminists on the left. As expected, the traditionalists were pro-life and the “advocates” pro-abortion. The big surprise was in the vast middle, where soccer moms dwell, and where elections are decided. Fully 42% wanted to ban abortion or limit it to two or three exceptions, while 23%, while opposing a ban, still wanted more restrictions. Only 35% of these “family-plus-feminism” women backed unrestricted abortion.

Make no mistake about it. These are stunning results. And coupled with the partial-birth abortion ban – the first major pro-life victory since the infamous Roe ruling — the political implications are staggering.

But the crucial point is this: neither the results of the study nor the ban would have been possible without the partial-birth abortion fight.

For years, many pro-lifers have demanded an all-or-nothing solution. They opposed the partial-birth fight — the ban, admittedly, will “only” save a couple thousand lives a year — and anything else short of total victory.

But this approach was (and is) fatally flawed. It forced activists into an impossible position — how do you “force” the Supreme Court to do anything? — dispiriting the faithful and suppressing their numbers. In frustration, it also produced its own form of extremism, exemplified by Paul Hill, executed this September for murdering an abortionist.

And most importantly, it put the cart before the horse. It prodded politicians to vote on an issue on which the public remained ignorant and opposed. Polls consistently showed Americans were grossly ill-informed about fetal development and even about Roe itself. They accepted two key myths: that until many months into a pregnancy, the unborn child was just a “blob,” and that once it ceased being a “blob,” aborting it became illegal. Had a referendum been possible, pro-lifers would have lost.

Yet by calmly focusing on partial-birth abortion — by forcing pro-abortionists to defend something indefensible to virtually everyone — pro-life incrementalists have demonstrated the lie of these broader pro-abortion myths. In doing so, they have persuaded the public, swelled their ranks and even crossed partisan and religious lines. And they are only just beginning.

Message to the Republican Party? Your strategists were all wet. Fire them. Half of America’s women want abortion banned. So stop ducking the issue. Become America’s pro-life party again.

Message to liberal Democrats? Be afraid. Be very afraid. When it comes to abortion, the handwriting is on the wall. Ignore at your peril.

Message to pro-life movement? Incrementalism works. It’s changing hearts and minds, especially those of young people. Keep at it. And most important, get out the pro-life vote next year.