Abortion: The hysteria which divides the US
Anti-abortion campaigners in the US will tell you their crusade is about the sanctity of life. But really it is about upholding a singularly unhealthy tendency in American public life - the exploitation of a divisive social and ethical issue to further the ambitions of a single political party...abortion has been the Republican Party's best tool for enlisting grass-roots support...The problem is that the majority of Americans support the notion of a woman's right to choose.
The problem for the Democratic party is that Americans do not support women's right absolute to choose abortion in all circumstances, at any stage of pregnancy and without any restrictions. And they shouldn't. There's surely a morally significant difference between an embryo and a viable, late-stage fetus. It's debatable whether even given that difference there should be an outright ban on late-term abortions, but it's still a difference that any reasonable person will regard as morally significant.
Political rhetoric aside, no one really buys the idea that abortion is simply and uncontroversially a purely self-regarding action or that controversy about abortion is really nothing more than a debate about women's "right to choose." Abortion is an animal rights issue. We ask: do these organisms have, at any given stage of development, rights that override women's right to choose? and, if so, under what conditions? We don't worry about killing germs, swatting flies or even salting slugs. There's controversy about whether culling the deer population or slaughtering cows and pigs for food is morally ok. There's even more controversy about the conditions under which it would be morally permissible, or obligatory, to put down a dog or cat.
This is the way in which most people who are not ideologues of the left or right correctly "frame" the abortion issue. Even in America, very few people seriously believe that slugs or blastulas--or trees--have rights. However, very few people anywhere seriously believe that putting down a dog or aborting a late-term fetus is simply a harmless "choice." And they shouldn't believe that.
In response to conservatives' wedge strategy, the Democratic Party has gotten itself locked into the position that this way of framing the question, means victory for the Religious Right, and that any restrictions whatsoever on the availability of abortion are a dangerous slide down the slippery slope to an outright ban. Moreover, abortion is popularly identified as THE central feminist issue (because, I suspect, "pro-choice" is easier to sell to the public than the enforcement of anti-discrimination regulations or affirmative action). This has alienated lots of Americans who might otherwise support the Democratic Party's policies, discredited feminism and put liberal Catholic politicians in a close to impossible position. If the Terri Schaivo affair and the current administration's idiot opposition to stem cell research are a drag on Republicans, this no-compromise-no-surrender view on abortion discredits Democrats.
The linked article, from a UK newspaper, suggests that Brits, and presumably Europeans generally, who haven't so far regarded abortion as a central political issue or opposed all restrictions on the availability of abortion as features of a fundamentalist, anti-feminist conspiracy, should look to the US as a model. I don't think so.