A Tale of Two Abortion Narratives: Dems Overreaching on Abortion?

Instead of simply popping a cork over Dan Gilgoff’s latest, I’d like to offer an alternative narrative, one suggested by Adele Stan, among others.

To wit: while the new Pew poll on abortion might signal some real drift toward pro-life positions, the evidence is ambiguous. It’s just as likely that the changes Pew is picking up on stem from a simultaneous hardening of Republican opposition and slackening of concern on the Democratic side, while abortion is becoming less of an issue overall.

What’s even more likely is that a single poll does not a trend make. Abortion opinions tend to fluctuate within a narrow band; the very next poll may show responses swinging back toward a pro-choice position.

But to continue my counter-narrative, that this poll may be essentially background noise will not stop religious concern trolls from taking advantage of it. The storyline I see here is not that “the country is growing nervous that Democrats will overreach on abortion rights,” or that “Folks are worried about progressive political leaders sweeping the concerns of pro-life people under the rug,” but that a reflexively centrist administration is once again catering to right-wing concerns by dealing away progressive positions.

If Adele is right, even the many concessions the Obama administration has made on abortion in the health care reform package haven’t been enough to satisfy the nominally progressive Jim Wallis. It certainly hasn’t been enough for the Catholic bishops.

In brief, then, the data suggest one of two possibilities. Either the Obama administration is bravely and appropriately responding to grassroots concern about abortion, as suggested by Rachel Laser, or he’s selling out abortion rights supporters in order to court center-right evangelicals and Catholics.

Actually, to add another wrinkle to the situation, why is the story here “Obama struggles to keep peace on abortion” instead of “Abortion ideologues are willing to sacrifice comprehensive health reform for incredibly incremental gains on their pet issue?” This may not be a story about the administration at all, in other words, but one about the foolhardiness of some activists throwing a temper tantrum to get their way on an unpopular issue.

This poses something of a problem for journalists like Gilgoff. The problem with listening only to the insider voices is that you have to trust the storylines they build for you. Laser and other moderates on abortion might be telling the truth, or they might be spinning for all they’re worth.

So I have to ask Dan: what makes you think – other than what your sources tell you – that “the country is growing nervous that Democrats will overreach on abortion rights”? Why would you choose to tell the story the way you did, rather than the way I’ve suggested?

And I have to ask Rachel Laser: what evidence can you produce – other than Jim Wallis’ press releases – that “Folks are worried about progressive political leaders sweeping the concerns of pro-life people under the rug”? If you’ve got it, I’d sure like to see it, because absent more data, I can’t see why your position ought to be preferred to mine or any other.

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