Democrats have seized on Rep. Todd Akin’s (R., Mo.) incendiary remarks about "legitimate rape" in an effort to paint Republicans as "extreme" when it comes to abortion and, by extension, all social issues.
Not only does this strategy expose the Democratic Party’s reluctance to talk about jobs and the American economy—which continues to struggle through the worst recovery in American history—but it also raises questions as to which party is actually more out of touch with public opinion on social issues.
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Mainstream media outlets have intensely scrutinized, and in many cases distorted, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s positions on abortion. President Obama’s position on the issue has received far less attention—but is arguably more "extreme" in relation to the views of the American public.
A May 2012 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans identified as "pro-life," compared to 41 percent who identified as "pro-choice." The same poll found that 72 percent believe abortion should be either illegal in all cases (20 percent) or legal "only under certain circumstances (52 percent), compared with just 25 percent who said abortion should be legal "under any circumstances."
The Romney-Ryan position on abortion—allowing exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and when a mother’s life is in danger—fits squarely within the mainstream of public opinion. Obama’s position, and that of the Democratic Party, is arguably far more extreme.
Throughout his political career, Obama has consistently opposed efforts to place even minor restrictions on abortion.
During his first campaign for president, Obama promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a bill that would, in the words of the National Organization for Women, "sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws."
As a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2003, Obama indicated his support for abortion under any circumstances, even those performed during the third trimester of pregnancy.
An overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with this position, including 79 percent of those identifying as "pro-choice," according to a 2011 Gallup poll.
As an Illinois state senator, Obama voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion, a controversial procedure that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe should be prohibited. The U.S. Congress passed a bill banning the practice in 2003 with significant bipartisan support that was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court.
The most notorious aspect of Obama’s record on abortion is his persistent opposition to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, an Illinois bill designed to grant legal protections to babies that survived abortions. Congress passed a federal version of the bill in 2002 by unanimous consent.
Earlier this year, the president opposed a House bill to prohibit sex-selective abortion. Twenty Democrats voted in favor of the measure, and one poll found that 77 percent of Americans opposed abortion for the purpose of sex selection.
Obama’s abortion stance nearly sank his signature health care reform when a number of pro-life Democrats balked at the idea that abortion and abortifacients may be covered under Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. The Democratic Party platform for 2012 contains an implicit endorsement of federal funding for abortions, although polling shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose the idea.
The president has also drawn criticism for his administration’s effort to force religious institutions to offer birth control coverage as part of their employee health insurance plans.
A February 2012 Pew Research Center poll found that Americans supported a religious exemption to the administration’s mandate by a 48 percent to 44 percent margin. Catholic voters, always a critical constituency in national elections, opposed the mandate 55 percent to 39 percent.
On gay marriage, the Democratic Party has adopted a platform to the left of President Obama’s recently adopted position. The president announced in May that he now believes "same-sex couples should be able to get married," but also indicated that the issue would be best decided at the state level.
The official Democratic platform, however, calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton that recognizes marriage as between a man and woman. Though support for gay marriage has increased in recent years, polls indicate that public opinion is evenly split on the issue, notwithstanding efforts to portray Republican opposition as "extreme."
Reports indicate that Democrats plan to make abortion a focal point of their upcoming convention in Charlotte, a strategy that could ultimately backfire, given that just 38 percent of Americans consider abortion and same-sex marriage to be "extremely" or "very" important issues in the election.
Not surprisingly, issues such as the economy, unemployment, and the budget deficit remain paramount to voters.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found that voters disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a 54 percent to 44 percent margin.