Abortion is one of the less noted phenomenon of American politics. Of course I do not speak of the endless debates, campaigns and media barrages waged on the issue. I speak of the shift that both parties have made on the issue and one could argue both have done it rather successfully.
Prior to the 1930’s it was hard to find a pro-life Republican. By the same token it was hard to find a pro-choice Democrat. Today’s dynamic is the polar opposite. Republicans are voraciously the party of pro-life values and Democrats pro-choice values.
Rove vs. Wade in 1973 opened up a Pandora’s box the country has been unable to close for over 40 years. Partisan and ideological preferences on the issue, slowly changing since Gallup started polling on the issue in the 50’s, suddenly accelerated. Republicans and Southern white Democrats began to identify in ever greater numbers as pro-life. The Democratic shift to pro-choice preferences was slower, but that is largely a fact that Southern whites voted Republican for President but remained registered as Democrats.
Move forward to today and this shift can be broken down beyond ideology and partisanship. Whites overwhelming identify as pro-life, as do Hispanics while African-Americans and Asians identify as majority pro-choice. Catholics and Protestants identify as pro-life, Jews and others (atheists and deists) identify as pro-choice.
There are regional preferences at work here as well. Suburban and rural voters are far more likely to identify as pro-life than urban voters. Of course there is a demographic cross-over here. Rural voters are older and vote more Republican, just like suburban voters, compared to urban voters. Slowly, over time, both parties have adapted to these changing values and beliefs.
Ronald Reagan in the 80’s capitalized off dissatisfaction with Roe vs. Wade by courting what was known as the New Right (catholic Eastern Europeans), Evangelicals and suburban women. George Bush did much the same in 2004 except his approach was to win pro-life Hispanics. Not until 2008 did we see a national Democrat successfully win on the issue.
Some would marvel at the likes of the Democratic Party and its base salivating at the thought of having a little known, urban Austin, Texas Senator become a national figure. But she represents the views of a solid majority of the party. They oppose regulations on abortion clinics and banning abortion at five months. She also fits the party profile of being a single woman from an urban district.
By the same token it should come as no shock the Texas public support abortion restrictions after five months and new regulations on abortion clinics. The state has a largely rural and suburban white population and many pro-life Hispanics.
The slate of laws passed recently by GOP states restricting or at least controlling abortion is a direct result of abortion moving beyond partisanship and ideology. A rural state like Arkansas banned it after five months, a suburban state like Virginia with rural pockets required getting an ultrasound to have an abortion. Wisconsin, the perfect microcosm of the rural/suburban/urban divide passed a law similar to Virginia’s. Outside of the state capitol of Madison there was little protest.
Little things like this tend not to get noticed when abortion is discussed. Usually the conversation comes down to partisan preference or ideology. As the above examples and light history show this is not always the case.
One last point before I conclude. Marriage is also a strong indicator of preference on abortion. A solid majority of married voters identify as pro-life, whether they have children or not, single men and women identify as pro-choice (single men by a lesser degree than single women). Married voters are also far more strongly Republican than single men or women. These factors should be considered when one debates political positions on the issue.