Today is the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In the last couple of weeks, I have been enjoying The Politics of Abortion by Dr. Anne Hendershott, Professor of Urban Studies at The King’s College in New York, NY. Having previously introduced the book by summarizing some of its themes, I was honored to subsequently correspond with Dr. Hendershott who was willing to answer a few questions for us.
What got you interested in the history of abortion politics?
When writing my earlier book, The Politics of Deviance, I had been looking closely at behaviors that had become “defined down” (Using Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s phrase “defining deviancy down”) – I looked at drug abuse which had become redefined as a medical disease rather than a moral failing, and I looked at homosexuality which had become normalized. I had planned to look at abortion which had become redefined from an evil act that involved the taking of life to one that was not only legally permissable, but now something for feminists to “celebrate.”
With all of these behaviors, there was a concerted effort by advocacy groups to define down the deviancy of these behaviors. There was so much on abortion though that I decided to devote an entire book on it – many would be surprised at the lobbying efforts that surrounded abortion in the early days – and still surround it today.
Young adults today may find it hard to believe that Democrats were once pro-life. Can you please list some of the salient data which supports this claim?
There are a number of documents that demonstrate that Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and Ted Kennedy were strongly pro-life. For example, Ted Kennedy wrote to a constituent in 1971 pledging his support for the unborn – from the moment of conception. I document others in my book. Jesse Jackson compared abortion to slavery.
What happened in the Democratic Party? How did its leadership embrace a position that was (it would seem) at odds with at least some of their base? Did they ever lose votes on it and reconsider? Or did their base expand to outweigh any loses?
Although feminists were not in the lead in demanding abortion rights (it was really two abortion industry profiteers – Larry Lader and Bernard Nathanson – who were out in front in lobbying for abortion in the early days), once feminists got on board, there was no stopping the pro-abortion train. They began to be convinced that this was the only way women could gain “full rights” in employment etc. Democrats began to see this as a lucrative source of funds for them – and a source of new voters. New York led in this area – it was legalized in New York before Roe v Wade. Bobby Kennedy – a pro-life Catholic received a great deal of support from dissident priests in helping him reformulate his abortion stance – I write about that in my book and in a recent Wall Street Journal article. New voters demanding abortion helped put democrats in power.
A large percentage of abortion clinics are in neighborhoods with a high percentage of Black and Hispanic women. Is that a coincidence?
I write about this in an article in Public Discourse (The Witherspoon Institute).
Do pro-choice advocates today argue for societal benefits to abortion (such as crime rate statistics)? Or is the main argument that government should “not interfere” in a “personal decision”?
Other than the Freakanomics author who (in an earlier pubished paper) says that more abortions mean less crime, others realize the problems with such a position. Still, this is the same position that Margaret Sanger advocated when she wrote about the “undesirable classes” or the “dangerous classes”.