That abortion has such resonance in American politics is remarkable on several levels: It's not an issue of top-tier importance to voters, and very few elections anywhere have been determined by it. It's the province of a small clique -- devout believers and political opportunists -- on both sides of the debate. [...]
"Abortion is only of concern to the ends of the ideological scale," says Susan Pinkus, the polling director for the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey.
It is striking that public attitudes about abortion have remained steady for three decades. A majority of Americans consider it a necessary evil, are uncomfortably pro-choice, and don't wish for abortions to be either difficult or easy to obtain. [...]
There are small groups of great conscience on both sides; those who believe life begins at conception and that, therefore, abortion is murder, and those who believe no one has a right to dictate to a woman what she may do with her own body.
More, however, use the issue as a fundraising or organizing device. Although the numbers are small, there is intensity that often provokes irrationality.
Some feminists are culpable, as are some of the conservative elements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America. There are few instances of a Catholic politician being denied communion on the basis of his views on war, hunger or capital punishment. Yet a bishop in Erie, Pennsylvania, once denied Ridge, a Vietnam War veteran and devoted public servant, the right to speak at Catholic-sponsored events solely because of his pro-choice views.
I realize that to people who don't care much about the abortion issue, abortion must seem unnecessarily divisive. I'm sure people who didn't care much one way or the other about the morality of slavery wondered what all the fuss was about, in the decade or so before the Civil War. But that doesn't change the fact that the toleration of an unjust or evil law creates an untenable position for a nation, and whether it is abortion itself or all the other evils that have followed in its wake, at some point the evil must be addressed.
Until then, the issue will remain divisive in a way that other issues of lesser moral gravity will not. And no amount of chiding editorials that try to equate a politician's support with abortion with his views on "war, hunger, or capital punishment" will change that fact.