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The abortion wars

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Has 30 years of legalized abortion made Americans more cavalier on issues of human life, as some antiabortion advocates had warned?

Not necessarily: On physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, Americans remain queasy, ethicists say. Public discomfort over the use of embryonic stem cells and human cloning has also shown that "there is still a moral seriousness in the American people that is quite uplifting," says Professor Elshtain.

Looked at another way, it's not necessarily true that banning abortion would enhance respect for life. Consider Romania under former President Nicolae Ceaucescu, says Ms. Kissling of Catholics for Free Choice: Abortion was strictly illegal - and unwanted children packed orphanages.

But abortion critics also say that, in fact, women facing unwanted pregnancies in this country don't have as much "choice" as the abortion-rights side claims.

"As a woman, my concern with 30 years of Roe is that it has created an abortion mentality," says Carrie Gordon Earll, a bioethics analyst at Focus on the Family, a conservative organization based in Colorado Springs.

"Even though most Americans don't like abortion," she says, "it has become the cultural default - almost an automatic assumption that a woman in a less-than-ideal pregnancy will at least consider it."

Since Roe, support systems that existed to help women with unwanted pregnancies - such as homes for unwed mothers - have shrunk. A classic cry among abortion-rights forces has been that abortion critics care more about the unborn than the born.

But in recent years, the antiabortion movement has built up a network of crisis-pregnancy centers - clinics where pregnant women can go for help with prenatal and postnatal care. Care Net, an umbrella organization for these centers in Sterling, Va., estimates that there are now about 2,500 in the US; in 1980, there were less than 500.

A declining abortion rate
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