The Newest in the Abortion Debate

29 03 2011

By: Madeline Priest

Photo by S. MiRK

Photo by S. MiRK

Overwhelmingly, the issue that has been the focus and greatest concern for the American public has been the economy and jobs.  It has recently been the case that proponents of one issue or another have used the economy and jobs as a frame to argue for their respective cause.  This is particularly true of the recently renewed debate over abortion and government funding of Planned Parenthood.

While the issue of abortion has largely flown under the radar in recent years, the controversy surrounding it has been sparked again as the fight over the national budget is ramped up.  So why has an issue that has been on the backburner for so many years come to the forefront of American politics again?

The most likely answer is that pro-life advocates and politicians need a salient issue to be able to use to re-focus public attention on the abortion debate.  Currently, the issue is the economy, as it is the most impactful issue and frame currently.  Proposed deep cuts to governmental spending created the perfect opportunity to do this.

A larger frame in the argument made by some leading Republicans is that it is not justifiable for the American public to be funding abortions; however there are smaller sub-frames within this argument.  One smaller sub-frame is that it is more democratic that this funding for Planned Parenthood be stopped.  This came in the form of a bill known as the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which was led by House Speaker John Boehner, who said “for the first time in many years, the People’s House was allowed to work its will.”

The larger and smaller sub-frames from conservatives act as a way for Republicans to also attack Health Care Reform.  By saying that the new plan will provide federal funding for abortions, it can be attacked along with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, whose abortion services were the cause of fewer than 10 percent of visits.  Further, the money that is allocated to Planned Parenthood is not used to fund abortions, but rather to pay for family planning services, cancer screenings, testing and treatments for sexually transmitted infections.

Currently Planned Parenthood’s budget is $1.1 billion, with a third of this funding coming from federal, state, and local governments.  Some Republicans have also framed the issue by described organizations such as Planned Parenthood as “promoting abortion,” language that is certain to be impactful with much of the American public.  By saying that abortion is being promoted, which is an emotionally loaded term, and not simply provided, people most likely will have a more emotional response to the statement and subsequent issue of federal funding for services like Planned Parenthood.

The economy and jobs are the most salient issue for Americans currently, making it a strategic time for Republicans with an anti-abortion agenda to bring the issue to the forefront of politics once again.  With elections coming up in 2012, those with this agenda can make the point that they were tough about cutting federal spending and reducing the budget.

There is, however, a potential for this tactic to backfire.  With such a divisive issue as abortion, it is easy to alienate voters who may be turned off by such a strong viewpoint.  For moderates who swung Republican in 2010 elections, this stance may cause them to vote for the Democratic candidate in the 2012 elections.  Some Democrats are also pushing back in response to the argument posed by key Republicans.

Whether the argument posed by key Republicans in the newly fueled abortion debate will be effective in the long term has yet to be seen.  Currently, the framing of the argument in a manner that projects the issue to be about the economy and jobs, is the most strategic and potentially effective way to garner support for the anti-abortion cause.  To be effective, Democrats will have to counter this frame by crafting arguments that also relate to the economy and job growth.

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