Americans cherish their rights yet we understand these rights have limits. Freedom of religion does not permit polygamy or animal sacrifice. Freedom of speech does not include public obscenity or hate speech.

The right to bear arms does not allow the unlimited choice of weapons for anyone to carry anywhere they choose.

When certain rights fanatics push their rights too far it causes a backlash. I respect the second amendment, but they went too far when they tried (in the Georgia legislature) to over ride property rights by trying to allow concealed carry even on property that the private owner prohibited, and pushed to allow concealed carry in public airports.

Such extreme promotion of rights without restrictions diminishes respect for those rights.

I believe this has happened in the arena of abortion rights.

The court ruling in Roe vs, Wade established a woman’s right to choose an abortion in the first trimester. That ruling became the defining moment for a woman’s right to determine her own fate, and be freed from the control of a male dominated power structure.

It has remained in bitter conflict as those who believe in the humanity of the unborn challenge the woman’s right to have sole determination of it’s (or his or her) fate. It has become the defining issue of the religious right as well.

Yet when the first trimester rights were stretched to include “partial birth” abortions, many saw this as infanticide. Progress in neonatology has removed any doubt of the humanity of the fetus in the last few months. How can it be a human being the day after it is born and any less the day before?

The extreme pushed even further when they debated a bill to withhold medical treatment for babies that survived an abortion. The development of a commonly accepted right, even developed under bitter compromise, to the extreme endangered its support.

The political fact of abortion is that it is supported by the majority, but like any other right, not without limits.

John Zogby’s polls show that 75% of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong yet the overwhelming majority also believes the government should not interfere in a woman’s decision on this matter. The majority are more nuanced than the extremists on either side. They would support a woman’s right if her life was in danger as a result or in the case of rape, or if the child had serious medical problems. But generally they believe this is a private decision; a very serious decision, but still a private one.

Because the majority of women and men support a woman’s right to choose, I have always thought that the strong prolife position was a loser for the Republicans, yet both McCain and Palin have established very strong pro life positions, stronger than any Republican has in recent memory, and they are well ahead in the polls. How can this be?

There are several possible explanations:
1. The extreme push into partial birth abortions has alienated some of the support from the moderates.
2. The removal of the stigma of single motherhood has made an abortion less socially necessary. Single motherhood in some segments of our culture is a right of passage.
3. Widespread birth control has also reduced the need and demand.
4. The abortion rights issue is just relatively less important in light of security and economic issues. It is less of a litmus test issue.
5. Prolife families procreate more. NOW is breeding itself out of existence.
6. If the candidates were closer together on the bigger issues then this debate would become a more important issue of differentiation. But the candidates are so far apart on the critical issues, that this one is less important.
7. There is a broader opposition to abortion. It is no longer limited to extreme right wing evangelical groups. Black leaders have opposed the focus on abortion in black neighborhoods as a form of social genocide and orthodox Jews and Muslims also oppose it. Catholics and Hispanics who are largely Catholic also weigh to the pro life side.

Given the tremendous shift on the issue of the last generation, it will be interesting to see its impact on the election. We remain strongly divided, but it may have less influence that we would ordinarily expect.