Michael Gerson

Perhaps this is a revolt against a culture of disposability. Perhaps it reflects the continuing revolution of ultrasound technology -- what might be called the "Juno" effect. In the delightful movie by that name, the protagonist, a pregnant teen seeking an abortion, is confronted by a classmate who informs her that the unborn child already has fingernails -- which causes second thoughts. A worthless part of its mother's body -- a clump of protoplasmic rubbish -- doesn't have fingernails.

Abortion is an unavoidable moral issue. It also has broader political significance. Democrats of a past generation -- the generation of Hubert Humphrey and Martin Luther King Jr. -- spoke about building a beloved community that cared especially for the elderly, the weak, the disadvantaged and the young.

The advance of pro-choice policies imported a different ideology into the Democratic Party -- the absolute triumph of individualism. The rights and choices of adults have become paramount, even at the expense of other, voiceless members of the community.

These trends reached their logical culmination during a congressional debate on partial-birth abortion in 1999. When Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer was pressed to affirm that she opposed the medical killing of children after birth, she refused to commit, saying that children deserve legal protection only "when you bring your baby home." It was unclear whether this included the car trip.

Having endorsed partial-birth abortion, Obama has little room to maneuver on the broader issue. But he does have some. He could take the wise counsel of evangelical Democrats such as Amy Sullivan and come out strongly for policies that would reduce the number of abortions -- support for pregnant women, abstinence education, the responsible promotion of birth control. An organization called Democrats for Life has proposed the creation of a "95-10 Initiative" in which states and the federal government would work toward the reduction of abortion rates by 95 percent within 10 years. That would be a unifying national goal.

Such efforts will not please many pro-lifers, who are waiting on Obama to support any type of legal protection for the unborn. But a real effort to reduce the number of abortions would indicate that Obama's Democratic Party is moving beyond its humiliation of Gov. Casey. And maybe Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., with his newfound leverage, could insist upon it.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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