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Barbershop: Republican Women And Abortion Rights


We are going to return now to an issue that's been a flashpoint in American life for a generation now, and it's front and center again. And that is the question of abortion as a number of states begin enacting more restrictive policies, some with the explicit hope of forcing a new consideration by the Supreme Court.

With that background, NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist undertook a new poll, and any number of new findings jumped out at us. For example, the poll found that three quarters of Americans want to keep Roe v. Wade in place, but a majority of Americans believe there should be restrictions. And then there was this - one group in particular, Republican women, are the most likely to oppose abortion rights. According to the poll, 68% of Republican women identify as pro-life - that is compared to 59% of Republican men - which is not one of the things that often gets highlighted in discussions about the issue, which often frames the issue as one of white men forcing their decisions on everybody else.

So we thought we would talk with Republican women about this. Joining us now are Mona Charen. She is a columnist and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She often writes about abortion from a perspective that supporters would call pro-life.

Mona, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

MONA CHAREN: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Susan Bevan is the former co-chair of Republican Majority for Choice. That was an organization of Republicans who support abortion rights.

Susan Bevan, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us as well.

SUSAN BEVAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: And for additional perspective, we called our colleague Sarah McCammon. She is an NPR correspondent. We did not call her for a partisan or political perspective but rather because she has covered this issue for some time now, and we thought she could add needed perspective.

Sarah, thank you so much for joining us as well.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: And I'm going to start with you because you have been covering this issue. When we released these findings, a number of people were surprised that Republican women are the most opposed to abortion rights - or, as I think they would prefer, pro-life in their perspective. And I just wondered if that was surprising to you, and why do you think that is?

MCCAMMON: Not especially. And that's partly because I talk to advocates on both sides of this issue all the time, and many of - many advocates on both sides are women, and that includes the anti-abortion rights side. And also because of the data I've seen before - as you say, our polling suggests that Republican women - 68% of them describe themselves as pro-life. That's compared to 59% of their male counterparts, Republican men. So they're more opposed to abortion, by that standard, than their male counterparts and certainly much more so than the Democratic women. Seventy-seven percent or so, three quarters or so of Democratic women in our poll identified as pro-choice.

But even if you look more broadly, Michel, at gender and abortion, the polling - not just ours but Pew polling, Gallup polling and others - have borne out this idea that overall, men and women have very similar views on abortion. Some polls will show that, you know, women might be just a point or two more supportive of abortion rights than men.

But according to most pollsters, the gap isn't very significant. There are other factors that we can get into - things like party and religion and others that are much more significant in determining one's perspective on abortion - not their gender.

MARTIN: So let me just give a couple more data points from the poll. The poll shows that 62% of Republican women say they are more likely to support laws that criminalize abortion or make laws stricter. The same percentage of Republican women also said they oppose laws that allow for abortion at any time during pregnancy in cases of rape or incest.

So, Mona, you've written about this actually quite extensively. And actually, one of the things that you've written about is the fact that while a lot of attention is often paid to the white male - say, the all-white, male Alabama senators who supported these new restrictions in Alabama - in fact, you say that, you know, Republican women are strong supporters of these laws as well. And I just wanted - so we know what is true. I'm curious to know, what's your perspective on why that's true?

CHAREN: Yeah. It's - so it's really good that you pointed out that the framing is often misleading - you know, that it's white men, Christian men, if you will, imposing these laws on women who don't agree. And as you're polling found and as other polling from Pew and others have found, there are very few differences on a population-wide basis between men and women and how they approach this issue. And when it comes to Republicans, women tend to be more pro-life than men.

I would suggest from the point of view of people who take this issue very seriously, that one reason that women are perhaps a little bit more likely to be pro-life is that women tend to be a little more religious than men. And women tend to be in the forefront throughout American history of movements that were aimed at helping people who don't and cannot speak for themselves. Women have a long tradition of being active in areas where, as I say, they want to speak for those who are the least among us. And so I think that's a through line throughout American history, and we see it today.

MARTIN: Susan, what do you think? You are a Republican, and you take a different perspective on this. Why do you think it is that Republican women are more likely to embrace restrictions than other groups?

BEVAN: Well, I don't know that I can speak for those that are more likely to embrace those restrictions because I don't feel that way at all. And, in fact, I don't like being even referred to as an abortion rights activist. I believe in choices, and I consider myself pro-life. I am also pro-choice. My family contains both adopted children and those to whom I gave birth, and they were all very much wanted.

So I think the terminology has very much compromised understanding because I think everybody is pro-life - just some are anti-choice in addition. I don't happen to be one of those. I believe in, you know, all of the choices available to people and not forcing people to, you know, maintain a pregnancy that they don't want, have a baby they don't want just because somebody else thinks that they should. I don't think that's Republican at all.

MARTIN: Mona, I just wondered if we could ask you to dig in a little bit more on that question because one of the things that you wrote about and you have written about a number of times is that, you know, women who don't want to have abortions but who feel for whatever reason, you know, forced to do so, in your view, don't have as much support as they should have. And one of the reasons that that's interesting is that you talk about, you know, why not promote adoption as a humane solution to a difficult, you know, problem? But as a person who's experienced pregnancy yourself, you know that it's not necessarily as - it's a life-changing event in ways that other things, you know, are not.

So I'm just - you know, I guess I'm more interested in, like, what are the philosophical roots of our different perspectives on these issues and why they fall out as they fall out. I mean, do you feel like it's different opinions about, like, what is fundamental human dignity, what is fundamental human purpose? You know what I mean? What do you think the roots of our different perspectives on this are?

CHAREN: I work with a group that tries to help women, Jewish women in particular, who find themselves with crisis pregnancies. And what we have found is that a large number of them - I wouldn't say the majority, but a significant minority - are women who are facing abuse or who do not wish to abort but feel pressured into it by boyfriends, family members, husbands and so forth. And that story rarely gets told. I think that some of the people who speak about abortion rights as being very pro-woman might want to reflect a little bit on those cases and how women in this situation sometimes just need a little support for making a different choice.

MARTIN: Mona, can I just ask Susan to do what you just did, which is to say, I ask you to frame what you consider to be the roots of that disagreement and the point of view of what is the philosophical roots of our different perspectives. Susan, can I ask you to do the same thing?

BEVAN: Yes. I guess I would say that I think, as I said earlier, in being a Republican, I believe that you have dominion over yourself. That is, to me, a prime right. And when you start making laws that affect how you have self-dominion - which this clearly does - then that is not compatible with being a Republican or, in my opinion, an independent, free human. So I very much am opposed to being told what to do with my body or yourself.

MARTIN: Well, thanks to both of you for this spirited and yet respectful conversation, which doesn't always happen around this issue. I just want to ask Sarah to give us kind of one more thought about this based on the reporting. Is what we heard here pretty much indicative? Are the kinds of issues being debated here, Sarah - is that generally what we hear around this issue? Or I guess really what I'm asking you is, where is this going?

MCCAMMON: Well, I think we heard a lot of complexity, and I think that's the thing I hear again and again as women talk about this issue, as they think about their own lives and their own bodies. And as Mona pointed out, there's nothing really like pregnancy. You know, I think it's a problem for ethicists and philosophers and politicians and anyone who's a thoughtful person. Basically, you start at day zero with nothing, and you end up nine to 10 months later with a baby, right? And what happens in between is really where the disagreement is.

We look at our poll, and very few people want to ban abortion in every situation. Very few people want it to be allowed for any reason at any time. So where people draw the line is really where the disagreement is. And I think you hear that complexity as I talk to women who've had abortions. Some of them, it's not a very difficult decision, but for many of them, it is. And I spoke to a woman yesterday who gave a baby up for adoption when she was a teenager. You know, she said for her, that was the right decision, and she considers herself pro-life. But, you know, you also talk to other women who found that decision very, very difficult.

I think it's hard because it is - it's a medically complex situation. It's a morally complex situation in many people's minds. And again, when you look at public opinion on this issue, you just see a lot of complexity. And I don't think that debate has any end in sight.

MARTIN: That is Sarah McCammon. She is an NPR correspondent. Mona Charen is a columnist and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Susan Bevin is the former co-chair of Republican Majority for Choice.

And I want to thank you all once again for a rich and a complicated conversation. Thank you all.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

CHAREN: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.