Obscured by the polemics and theologizing, however, is the hard reality that abortion rates in the U.S., and legalized abortion, will not soon yield to restatements of the catechism or the notion that abortion is a violation of "natural law." Such arguments have not yet proved persuasive to the American public, and minds are not likely to be changed by judicial fiat, even from the Supreme Court.
That means that abortion today is primarily a political challenge, and in that context Democrats have been embracing a more effective strategy than the GOP. In an interview with ABC last week, Mr. Obama wisely noted (a month after his "above my pay grade" gaffe) that the theological question was one "I don't presume to be able to answer" for everyone else. "The better answer," he said, "is to figure out, how do we make sure the young mothers, or women who have a pregnancy that's unexpected or difficult, have the kind of support they need to make a whole range of choices, including adoption and keeping the child."
Mr. Obama's argument has won some surprising converts, most notably the former Reagan official Douglas W. Kmiec, whose switch has infuriated his erstwhile allies in the conservative movement. While Mr. Kmiec still strongly opposes abortion, he also believes that the status quo will be perpetuated by a McCain-Palin win. As he notes, Republicans have dominated the White House and Congress for nearly 30 years, and appointed most of the Supreme Court justices. Yet little has changed. (Abortion rates in fact dropped under Bill Clinton and are leveling off under George Bush.)
Mr. Kmiec also argues that Roe v. Wade is effectively settled law, and while the high court has a mostly Catholic conservative majority, only Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia would consider overturning Roe -- and not for moral reasons, but because they believe it was based on a flawed reading of the Constitution.