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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

O'Reilly: Abortion, the Verboten Topic in American politics

"If we accept abortion in America as settled law, can we promote conversation about choosing life over abortion without being vilified?" asks Bill O'Reilly. Credit: Mark Weber / Tribune Media Services

No Republican I know wants to be talking about abortion right now. But Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin has made that impossible.

So let's talk about it for a moment. But can we do it in a calm and rational way?

Probably not. Because any frank discussion of the staggering quantity of abortions in the United States, or of its new forms, causes a firestorm of scorn and suspicion from organized pro-choice activists. Touch on the subject in any critical way, and one becomes anti-choice, anti-women and anti-progressive in a heartbeat. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd upped the ante this week by calling Republican pro-lifers antediluvian.

With all due respect to Dowd, there is a flood of bottled-up sentiment on abortion out there that has to be addressed. New selective abortion procedures beg for public discussion.

Abortion became law here in New York in 1970 -- under a Republican Senate, Assembly and governor -- three years before Roe v. Wade. Only four of the state's 270 legislators were women at the time. One of the state senators promoting the legislation, a Manhattan Republican for whom I later worked, placed hangers on the chairs of every legislator before the vote. It was a symbol, which many in the chamber found abhorrent, of the back-alley abortions that had maimed and killed women who had tried to terminate pregnancies on their own over the years.

A swing vote in favor of the law came from a Republican state senator who said on the floor -- I am paraphrasing -- "I don't like the idea of abortion, but if my daughter got pregnant, I'd like to know she could get one." With that, the law, which few saw coming, was passed.

I don't think anyone in that chamber could have expected what occurred in the ensuing years. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that since the Roe decision, about 50 million abortions have been performed in the United States.

In New York City, the current abortion statistics are jolting -- yet few want to speak of them. According to the New York City Department of Health, 40 percent of all pregnancies in New York City last year were terminated. In the Bronx, it was 48 percent. A staggering 60 percent of all African-American pregnancies in the five boroughs ended in abortion last year, and the year before that. Almost a million pregnancies have been terminated in the last decade in New York City.

I had no idea -- I don't think many did. But a pro-life organization called the Chiaroscuro Foundation painstakingly calculated the city data, which I helped them publicize when it was tallied.

A public opinion survey by McLaughlin and Associates about those statistics was equally surprising. Fifty-seven percent of New York City women referring to themselves as "pro-choice" said they believe too many abortions are occurring in New York City every year -- 64 percent of all New Yorkers surveyed agreed. A full 74 percent of New Yorkers said they believe that the abortion ratio for African-American pregnancies is too high.

But few elected officials are willing to discuss this. Indeed, I wouldn't advise it for my political clients. Raise the issue, even meekly, and you come under a barrage of coordinated fire.

Two stories in The New York Times last year had to raise eyebrows, though. One, in the Aug. 10 magazine, was on the growing practice of ill-named "half abortions." "The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy" was the story's headline. That involves eradicating one fetus when twins are conceived. The very idea of that makes me want to cry.

The other was about the gender-selection abortions sweeping the planet. In China and India, millions of girls are deleted in the womb every year. The impetus of The Times' story was a new DNA test that, with 95 percent accuracy, can determine the gender of a fetus at seven weeks, thus making gender-selection abortions in the United States and other developed nations possible earlier on in a pregnancy.

Is this really where we want to go?

Is it possible to have a rational conversation about these issues, without being vilified by one side or the other?

Just a question.

Now let's get back to the economy...

Bill O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant struggling to hold onto his own name. He is no relation to Bill O'Reilly the Fox News commentator.