Abortion advocates have got to be scratching their heads.
For the first time in decades, they have staunch allies in the top echelons of government and the left-wing majorities needed to advance their agenda. No legislative roadblocks impede their way -- not a president's veto pen, not hostile committee chairs, not unfriendly leadership in the House and Senate.
They also have a president who promised to make the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would overturn all state-level abortion restrictions, his first priority as the nation's chief executive. More importantly, with Obama the pro-abortion movement has the luxury of claiming the implicit support of the American people, 70 million of whom voted for him last year.
Yet during the first eight months of his administration, abortion has been far down the president's list of priorities. Even worse for abortion advocates, the issue is trending away from them even as they've gained more power.
A Washington Post story, titled "Abortion Stigma Affects Doctors' Training And Choices," that ran Tuesday underscores the growing tension. The Post story, which devotes ample ink to the abortion lobby and a few paragraphs to the other side, does its best to lament the latest setback for pro-abortion forces -- a dearth of up-and-coming doctors willing to conduct the procedure.
The kicker, of course, plays off the murder of George Tiller, one of only a few abortionists willing to end unborn human life in the third trimester. The Left hoped that Tiller's death three months ago would galvanize Americans against pro-lifers; instead, most recognized that a movement built on the sanctity of human life has no affinity for a cold-blooded killer.
More than focus on Tiller's murder, however, the Post story tells the plight of medical school students struggling with whether to enter the tainted abortion industry, and the angst of aging abortionists who don't see many up-and-coming med students to take their place.
"We need young doctors and we need them badly," the president of one pro-abortion group told the Post. "The situation is pretty grave, pretty dire."
Although doubtless unintentional, one byproduct of the Post's thinly veiled call for more abortionists is the reality that pro-lifers have made gains in the court of public opinion. Legislative victories, particularly at the federal level, have been slow in coming. But there are indications of a cultural shift away from the abortion ethic and toward greater respect for unborn life.
Compared with the Baby Boom generation, today's young people view abortion radicalism as far less chic. In fact, many are more inclined to view the pro-life cause as trendy. One reason might be that abortion is now the status quo, while the pro-life movement is counter-cultural. "Fight the Power" all over again.
Beyond the generational gap, abortion rates themselves have steadily declined since the early 1980s, and the downward spiral shows no signs of letting up. In January 2008, Planned Parenthood's research arm, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, reported that the abortion rate had reached its lowest level since 1974, a year after the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand.
Although 53 percent of voters marked their ballots for Barack Obama last year, public support for abortion continues to erode. A Gallup poll in May reported that a majority of Americans, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, identify as "pro-life" rather than "pro-choice."
Such evidence points to the conclusion that even though pro-lifers have borne election defeats during the last two cycles, culturally and socially the trend is in their favor. For years, many pro-lifers have devoted their energy to non-political ends, such as non-profit pregnancy counseling centers that educate women about abortion alternatives. Those efforts are now bearing fruit.
On the other side, try as they might, the abortion industry has been unable to brand abortion procedures as the equivalent of getting your appendix or tonsils removed. In reality, Planned Parenthood's campaign to "normalize" abortion (through products such as "I Had an Abortion" t-shirts and "Choice on Earth" Christmas cards) has backfired. Most Americans instinctively recognize that abortion is a moral evil, even if they mistakenly view it as a necessary moral evil.
What must be frustrating for the abortion lobby is that 2009 should be the year of unequaled triumphs, but it's turning into the year of unequaled setbacks. The president, so far, hasn't fulfilled his many campaign pledges on the issue; public sentiment is shifting; and support for abortion among the young isn't the default position it used to be.
In the age of hope and change, it wasn't supposed to happen this way.