Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Who are the abortion extremists? A political analysis

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 14, 2022

Senator Lindsay Graham (who ordinarily is not one of my favorites) has introduced legislation that would ban late-term abortions throughout the US. The bill has zero chance of becoming federal law. In the unlikely event that it won approval in Congress, it would certain face a veto by President Biden. So why has Senator Graham proposed the measure? Obviously, he wants to put Democratic lawmakers on record.

And that’s a good idea.

With the November midterm elections just a few weeks away, Democrats are pounding relentlessly on the abortion issue, insisting on unrestricted support for tax-funded abortion on demand. The Republican Party leadership, on the other hand, is leery of engaging the issue; many GOP champions fear being swept away by the wave of propaganda about “extremism.”

Clearly, Democrats think that the abortion issue is a winner for them, and many Republicans agree. Think about it: If Candidate Jones says that his rival Candidate Smith is out of step with public opinion on Issue X, while Smith avoids any discussion of X, aren’t you naturally inclined to think that Smith is indeed on the losing side of that issue? So the prophecies become self-confirming.

And that’s crazy.

Poll after poll, year after year, has shown that Americans are conflicted about abortion. Only a small minority think that abortion should be illegal in all cases; only a small minority think it should be legal in all cases. The great majority lies somewhere in between, in what might be called the range of “moderate” opinion. The Democratic Party today very definitely lies outside that “moderate” range.

The party line of Democrats now requires unstinting support for abortion in all circumstances, for any reasons. Not only that, but the procedure must be readily available, it must be taxpayer-funded, and anyone who protests must be regarded as dangerous. Short of actually requiring women to abort, how could the Democratic position be any more extreme?

Yet timid Republicans still shy away from the issue, thereby damaging both their own electoral chances and the prospects of the pro-life movement—which many of them claim to support.

More than 30 years ago, I wrote a memo on this subject to a Republican gubernatorial candidate. He ignored my suggestions, and lost in the primaries. Would he have won, if he accepted my advice? Maybe not; he was running in the liberal paradise of Massachusetts. But to this day I believe that mine was a winning strategy, and the case has only been strengthened over the years—mostly by the Democratic lurch toward abortion extremism.

My memo from 1990 is below. Perhaps the argument could have been made more persuasively then; undoubtedly the message is more urgent today. While Americans still disapprove of abortion on a personal level, the abortion lobby has taken full advantage of a one-sided public debate to slide poll numbers in their direction on the key political questions.

If Republicans in 2022 cannot make voters understand that the Democrats are the extremists on the abortion issue, they don’t deserve to win. And if the pro-life movement cannot expect GOP candidates to make the case more effectively, we need a better vehicle for our political cause.

Advice to a Republican candidate

[A memo written in 1990]

Abortion will be an unavoidable question in all 1990 electoral campaigns. Pro-life candidates can turn this question to their advantage if they frame the issue clearly, mobilizing the two-thirds majority of Americans who favor restrictions on abortion.

Democratic candidates in Massachusetts will refuse to support any restrictions on abortion. A pro-life Republican can demonstrate that this is an extreme position; responsible regulation of abortion is the moderate path.

In the aftermath of the Webster decision, proponents of unrestricted abortion have mounted an enormous propaganda campaign. With the help of a sympathetic media, they have broadcast the notion that most American voters are “pro-choice.” The results of recent elections disprove their claim.

Election results prove one fact beyond doubt: pro-life candidates who waffle on this issue are inviting disaster. Pro-abortion propagandists will accept no compromises. A candidate who straddles the fence, therefore, will have the worst of both worlds: he will be abandoned by pro-life activists, yet still attacked by pro-abortionists.

Pro-life campaigners in 1990 must emphasize one central point: The question at issue today is whether abortion should be totally unrestricted and unregulated. We do not have the political support (in Massachusetts, at least) to ban all abortions; and in any case, until Roe is overturned, no state can implement such a ban. The question of banning abortion, therefore, is politically irrelevant. The only relevant question is whether abortion should be restricted.

Election Analysis

Three recent contests—the New York mayoral race and the gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey—have been depicted as victories for legal abortion. This is inaccurate. In each case, the Republican candidate attempted to compromise his position of abortion, thereby losing the allegiance—and the campaign help—of the pro-life movement.

The Virginia contest was most instructive, particularly because Governor-elect Wilder strongly emphasized his support for unrestricted abortion. He thus attracted enthusiastic support from abortion advocates all over the country. Marshall Coleman waffled, losing pro-life support. Therefore, this was a one-sided contest, pitting the strength of the pro-abortion forces against no organized opposition. Yet Wilder won by a very slim margin!

Moreover, Wilder’s victory cannot be attributed to pro-choice sentiment. An exit poll conducted among Virginia voters by Tarrance & Associates found that only 12% of the voters based their choice solely on the issue of abortion, and of these, a slim plurality (42-39%) voted for Coleman. Only 10% of the voting population cited their preference for a pro-choice candidate as an important factor in the election. A slightly larger number, 12%, cited pro-life beliefs as an important factor.

The National Right to Life Committee has identified ten post-Webster electoral contests in which the two candidates offered a clear choice on abortion. Pro-life candidates won seven of those ten contests. The most noteworthy contest was the victory of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, succeeding Claude Pepper in the 18th Congressional district in Florida.

Public Opinion

Recent polls purport to show that a majority of Americans would oppose a ban on abortion. But the question of banning abortion is irrelevant. The relevant question is whether abortion should be restricted, and a clear majority supports restrictions on abortion.

On the eve of the Webster case, a CBS News poll asked Americans whether they would support a law banning abortion in their state except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. A solid majority—66%—said they would approve such a law.

To date the best available poll—because it is the most thorough—is the one conducted by the Boston Globe in March 1989. By asking questions on a case-by-case basis, the Globe poll revealed public attitudes regarding abortion in practice rather than in theory. The results demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of American disapprove of abortion in an overwhelming majority of cases.

According to the Globe poll, solid majorities believed that abortion should be legal:

  • to save the life of the mother (86%),
  • in cases of rape (86%),
  • in cases of incest (83%),
  • if the mother’s health is endangered (81%), and
  • in cases of genetic deformity (63%).

However, according to the Guttmacher Institute (an affiliate of Planned Parenthood), those conditions account for only 7% of all abortions performed in America. And that 7% figure is inflated; it includes 4% in the catch-all category “health of the mother.”

On the other hand, large majorities thought abortion should be illegal:

  • as a means of selecting the child’s sex (93%),
  • as a means of birth control (89%),
  • when the father is unwilling to help (83%),
  • when the timing of the pregnancy is inconvenient (82%),
  • when the father is absent (81%),
  • when the woman cannot afford a child (75%),
  • when the father pressures the mother into abortion (75%),
  • when the father wants to keep the baby (72%), or
  • when the pregnancy would cause emotional strain (61%).

There has been no discernible change in public attitude regarding the restriction of abortion. Every year since 1965, the National Opinion Research Center has polled on the same question: “Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances.” The answer have been remarkably consistent. Invariably, the “always legal” response is between 20-25%; “always illegal” between 17 and 21%; “legal under certain circumstances” between 52 and 59%. There is no sign of any trend.


A successful pro-life Republican strategy for 1990 can be built on the following principles.

1. The pro-life candidate must be firm and unwavering. Any perception of fence-straddling, or sudden changes of heart based on political expediency, on this vital issue will raise questions about the candidate’s character. Only a few voters are militantly pro-choice, and these voters will cast their lot with an equally militant pro-choice candidate. Since the Democratic Party has staked its claim for unrestricted abortion, no Republican candidate can count on any support from this small constituency. By taking a clear pro-life stance, the candidate can claim the support of a somewhat larger pro-life constituency. A candidate whose pro-life position is clear can count on the support of loyal pro-life workers; a candidate who waffles cannot.

2. The pro-life candidate must mobilize public disapproval of abortion. The overwhelming majority of Americans view abortion with extreme distaste. The candidate should emphasize how many abortions now take place in Massachusetts: roughly 40,000 every year. Massachusetts ranks 48th among the 50 states in birth rate, but 8th in abortion rate. Taxpayers have financed nearly 50,000 abortions, at a cost of $1,400,000 annually. Massachusetts pays for far more abortions than the entire federal government. After 16 years of completely untrammeled access to abortion, no one can be happy with our present situation.

3. The pro-life candidate must oppose “convenience” abortions.The candidate should point out that, at present, access to abortion is utterly unrestricted. Many women choose abortion for trivial reasons. Abortion has become commonly used as a form of contraception. One-half of those now obtaining abortions admit that they used no contraceptive. And over 40% of all abortions are repeat abortions; some women keep coming back. In one year, at one clinic in Brookline, over 600 women procured an abortion for the fourth time or more. The “hard cases” involving rape, incest, or the life of the mother account for no more than 7% of all abortions.

4. The pro-life candidate must call for restrictions on abortion.Massachusetts voters will not support a total ban on abortion. But they should support measures:

  • making it illegal to use abortion as a mean of selecting the sex of the child;
  • requiring abortionists to take all steps necessary to protect the life of a viable fetus;
  • setting tough safety standards and reporting requirements for abortion clinics;
  • giving women complete information about what an abortion will involve, and the available alternatives; and
  • protecting the rights of the unborn child’s father.

By supporting such moderate measures, a pro-life candidate could energize the dedicated pro-life workers, and mobilize the passive pro-life sentiment of the voting majority. Moreover, since pro-abortion candidates will reject any restrictions, a firm pro-life leader will demonstrate the extreme, uncompromising nature of his opponent’s position on this crucial issue.


The great majority of voters are uncomfortable with the issue of abortion, and will support a candidate whose views represent some common ground. A pro-life candidate can succeed by demonstrating:

  1. Abortion has become an all-too-frequent occurrence.
  2. The only relevant question is whether we should continue to allow completely unrestricted, unregulated access to abortion.
  3. The moderate position is to promote responsible restrictions, eliminating “convenience” abortions and forcing the abortion industry to conduct itself responsibly.
  4. By insisting on unrestricted abortion, “pro-choice” politicians are taking an extreme position, risking a major rift in society and encouraging the needless slaughter of unborn children.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 15, 2022 11:09 AM ET USA

    Congratulations to the Author on the prediction in 1990 of future overturn of Roe. One of the items that keeps escalating over the years and decades is more and more misleading language of the pro abortion propaganda. "Reproductive justice" must be one of the most deceptive slogans that promotes the ultimate injustice: a mother destroying the life of her own child.