It's hard not to notice a curious new dynamic in American politics.
The nation has veered sharply to the left on matters of same-sex marriage and gender identity. Yet at the very same time, it's moving in the opposite direction on the "settled" issue of abortion, which hasn't felt so unsettled in 40 years.
It didn't start with the unwatchable Planned Parenthood videos circulating around the Web, although they're unquestionably bolstering the anti-abortion cause. The phenomenon began, arguably, with the modern sonogram, which inarguably shows well-formed babies where protoplasmic blobs once were said to be.
It's hard to ignore a 3-D or 4-D sonogram showing a baby girl laughing at 24 weeks. It has to be downright haunting to surgically exact a fetus from the womb after seeing his face in picture-perfect detail at 14 weeks.
It's better not to look.
Same-sex marriage and abortion have nothing to do with one another. But the juxtaposition of the issues is striking in that it challenges the popular belief that the world moves only leftward where social issues are concerned -- that once a previously held social norm is lost, it cannot be retrieved. The late-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously lamented the trend in his writings on "defining deviancy down." Liberals have long promoted the Marxian line on the historical inevitability of things they favor.
This trend flies in the face of that thinking.
What's especially intriguing to watch is the emerging intersection of idealism and ambivalence on abortion in the millennial generation. It makes one wonder whether protection of the unborn could become the next great civil rights cause in America. Or the one after that.
Polling shows that millennials already are more likely than their parents to question abortion on moral grounds. And they're more supportive of restrictions on abortion than any living generation. What happens when the fetal hologram or some such comes out?
At the same time, there's a growing rift among pro-abortion rights feminists -- yes, there are anti-abortion feminists -- over the issue of gender-selection abortions which disproportionately terminate girls. Some feminists want the practice banned. Others consider any restrictions on abortion politically anathema. It's a crack in abortion orthodoxy that can only grow.
The country is still divided along the pro-abortion/anti-abortion-rights spectrum, with one side narrowly leading the other depending on which poll you read. But what's indisputable is that a large and growing majority of Americans favor some restrictions on abortion. Millions of staunchly anti-abortion Americans find late-term abortion abhorrent, for example.
Prenatal photography has to have a lot to do with that.
It's striking to note the reaction of the abortion-rights lobby to modern science. Instead of acknowledging evidence of consciousness at earlier ages than was previously provable, abortion-rights groups have hardened their stances. Candidates who aren't "100 percent pro-abortion rights" -- who don't favor virtually unrestricted abortion right up until birth -- are labeled "anti-women" by political action committees.
History may show this to be an extraordinary blunder. Abortion-rights advocates are asking people to support late-term practices that increasingly look to the average person like killing.
It's no surprise that abortion continues to be challenged from the political right. The Republican Party hasn't flinched in its views on abortion since it included anti-abortion language in its national platform in 1976, following the Roe v. Wade decision, even as it welcomes pro-abortion rights members. But could it be possible that abortion will one day face an equally strong challenge from the progressive left, fueled by science and Natural-Rights-of-Man arguments laid out during The Enlightenment?
Never say never.
Those pictures will not be ignored.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.