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Why the Abortion Divide Is Smaller Than You Think

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WASHINGTON -- When it comes to how Americans feel about abortion, the numbers aren't even close, especially on extreme positions.

Only about 10 percent feel so strongly about life that they'd ban the procedure altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, only 10 percent refuse any restrictions on the practice.

Meanwhile, polls show 80 percent are open to pursuing compromises that could reduce abortions.

So does that willingness make them pro-life or pro-choice?

"Most Americans don't like abortion. They think it's a bad thing," Fordham University professor Charles Camosy told CBN News. "Most Americans also want exceptions for like life, rape, fetal deformities. So if you're that person, are you pro-life? Yes. Are you pro-choice? Yep."

A Nation Torn in Two

But Camosy, author of Beyond the Abortion Wars, said the extremes have managed to rip the country in two.

"Abortion has been politicized along the right/left binary in ways such that if you don't fit with, say, a Republican pro-lifer or a Democrat pro-choicer, you're the enemy," Camosy stated.

Christina Forrester, executive director of Christian Democrats of America, regularly sees the hatred.

"What we get on our social media almost on a daily basis is 'You are baby-killers, you are murderers,' and 'How can you be for a party that wants to murder children?'" she said.

In such an atmosphere, one strategy would be to appeal to the larger number instead of those on the 10 percent fringes.

Aiming for the Middle

"Let's deal with the middle 80 percent," Camosy suggested. "Because if you try to craft legislation that's going to address what I call the 10 percent extremes, it's basically impossible."

"The way Left or the way Right is too extreme," Forrester added. "And I think most people are right there in the middle, where they do want a woman to have choice, but they want to protect the unborn, too."

In order to move forward, Camosy reminds lawmakers they will likely have to support things they don't find totally acceptable.

"If you live in the real world, you just know that there are certain compromises you're going to have to make in order to pass legislation," he warned, like allowing abortions in cases like rape.

"The outrage on the Left, when I see the most outrage, it's over 'They don't even want to make exceptions for rape and incest,'" Forrester told CBN News.

Only a little more than 1 percent of abortions deal with pregnancies caused by rape or incest. And a whopping 83 percent of Americans want those abortions kept legal.

"Just practically and politically, we need to have those exceptions," Camosy said.

For many pro-choice Democrats, compromise means seeing some abortions banned. But Camosy says they'll find support, even among a majority of pro-choicers.

Camosy says that's because most of them would say "I hate third-trimester abortions and I'm really strongly against second-trimester abortions."

Surveys confirm that point of view. Sixty-one percent of Americans would allow abortions in the first three months of pregnancy.

Then numbers go down, with 27 percent allowing abortion in the second trimester and only 14 percent for the last three months.

Forrester, a Democrat, says she would go earlier than the 20-week abortion ban many Republicans are pushing in Congress.

"Because I have a cousin personally who was born at 20 weeks and is still alive today," she said.

Camosy added, "The Pain Capable Act, the 20-week ban: over 60 percent of Americans support it. And more women than men."

Childcare and Maternity Leave

Another part of this debate affecting families reaches into the workplace in terms of equality. Republicans would have to accept new rules or government incentives for employers, an expensive proposition.

"This is what I think has been missing from the pro-life movement for a very long time, actually. Equal pay for equal work," Camosy explained. "Allowing women to participate in the public sphere, the professional sphere equally with men and be mothers."

It means heavily-subsidized childcare when needed and guaranteed maternal leave.

"The United States and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries that don't guarantee paid maternity leave," Camosy said.

Both Forrester and Camosy said taking these measures would make having children more affordable and less stressful for women, which would help reduce abortions.

This could also help if and when future abortion restrictions make it to the Supreme Court.

In the past, justices have ruled such bans unconstitutional because they place "undue burdens" on women.

"One of the number one reasons a majority of women cite if they've had an abortion is economic in nature," Forrester explained.

"Right now what we have is a workforce that essentially asks women to pretend that they're men, right? And can't get pregnant," Camosy stated.

If Republicans were to pay what it takes for most women to forsake abortions and Democrats would be willing to give on some restrictions, progress could finally take place and save lives.

"And the fact is we're really not that far apart on the issue," Forrester said. "If the common goal is reduction, then we share the common goal. We want to protect the unborn. We want to protect women."

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About The Author


As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress. Strand began his tenure at CBN News in 1985 as an evening assignment editor in Washington, D.C. After a year, he worked with CBN Radio News for three years, returning to the television newsroom to accept a position as editor in 1990. After five years in Virginia Beach, Strand moved back to the nation's capital, where he has been a correspondent since 1995. Before joining CBN News, Strand served as the newspaper editor for