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Anti-Abortion Rhetoric Still Strong

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Anti-Abortion Rhetoric Still Strong

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Anti-Abortion Rhetoric Still Strong

Anti-Abortion Rhetoric Still Strong

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The murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller has put the abortion debate back in the national spotlight. Journalism professor Cynthia Gorney, author of Articles of Faith: A History of the Abortion Wars discusses the state of the abortion debate.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We thought it might be helpful to add some context about the country's abortion debate, where it's been and where it may be headed. So we called Cynthia Gorney. She is author of "Articles of Faith: A History of the Abortion Wars." She is a journalist and professor of journalism who has been reporting on the abortion issue for more than 20 years. She is on the line with us from her home outside San Francisco. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.

Professor CYNTHIA GORNEY (Journalism; Author, "Articles of Faith: A History of the Abortion Wars."): Nice to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: You used the phrase abortion wars in the title of your book, which was first published in 1998. Now, you heard Dr. Booker just now. He was - Dr. Tiller was the fourth doctor in the United States who performed abortions to be killed since 1993. As I understand it, the first such killing of an abortion provider in this country since 1998. Are we still at war over this issue?

Prof. GORNEY: I believe that we're still in a reasonably high level rhetorical war. I don't think at this point that this act of violence predicts another round of violence against providers. I could be wrong about that. I very much hope that I'm not. Everything we're reading about this individual at this point suggests that this was a loose cannon looking for a place to go off.

MARTIN: I think you're alluding to the fact that there was a lot of intense protest. There was violence directed at clinics mainly in the 1990s. What caused that to stop?

Prof. GORNEY: I think it's fair to say, based on a lot of conversations I've had over the years with people who are part of the movement that calls itself Right to Life, that, first of all there was a tremendous amount of debate within that movement about whether these kinds of protests, and by this I mean everything ranging from civil disobedience to acts of violence and killing, were justified in the name of a cause that they believed in. So there was the moral argument going on intensely.

But far more uniform was the feeling that every time one of these acts of real violence, and particularly murder occurred, it set their movement back tremendously in the eyes of the public. It was just not pragmatically useful, even if you were part of a very small part of the movement that thought it was morally justified.

MARTIN: But as you heard Dr. Booker say that, as he said and I don't know whether you agree with his assessment, that most residency programs are not even teaching abortion anymore.

Prof. GORNEY: Yes, that's true. Yeah, Dr. Booker is absolutely right. When one of the ways - I mean, one of the pragmatic victories that the anti-abortion movement has been able to claim over the last decade is that there is less provision of abortion services in many parts of the country. There - in urban areas, it's still relatively easy. But there are many parts of the country, including, of course, Dr. Booker's state, where, for practical purposes, you can't get an abortion because the doctors have declined to do them. It's too much hassle and programs, as he says, have stopped teaching it.

MARTIN: What's your sense of where the country is on the question of abortion rights? A couple of weeks ago we reported on a Gallup poll that said that for the first time, in more than a decade really, since they've been asking the question, a majority, a slight majority of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, about 51 percent. What is your take on this?

Prof. GORNEY: I believe that that has far less to do with an actual shift of opinion than with an increasing frustration about the labels. My personal view is that for a long time, since you began looking at these polls more than 25-30 years ago, the majority of the Americans have held a very much more nuanced position on abortion than quote "pro-life" or quote "pro-choice." And that the Gallup poll - I think there are a lot of people who identify themselves as quote "pro-life" who at the same time do not believe that a prohibition, a legal prohibition on abortion is the right way to go.

I don't believe that that has changed very much. I think people just are freer now about using the term pro-life and the term pro-choice really doesn't -people aren't entirely clear at this point what that means either. A minority of this country has always believed that abortion should always be legal. The great majority has believed for a long time that it should be legal under certain circumstances.

MARTIN: Cynthia, we only have 30 seconds left literally and I apologize for that. But you heard me ask Dr. Booker about President Obama's call for a common ground on this issue. Possible, in your view?

Prof. GORNEY: Conversation is possible. Ultimately, unfortunately it's kind of a binary question. Is it going to be legal or not? And so tolerance for how to even have that conversation is the next goal. If anybody in leadership in this country can move us there, I would say it's President Obama.

MARTIN: Cynthia Gorney is the author of "Articles of Faith: A History of the Abortion Wars." She is also a professor at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. And she was kind enough to join us on the lines from her home outside San Francisco. Thank you so much for talking to us, Professor Gorney.

Prof. GORNEY: Thank you, Michel.

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