If you want to understand why President Obama campaigned on abortion rights this year, look no further than the national exit polls, which show that 59 percent of Tuesday's electorate think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, as opposed to 36 percent who think it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Moreover, more than twice as many voters think abortion should be legal in all cases than think it should be illegal in all cases. That is to say, only 13 percent take the official Catholic position.
It gets worse for pro-lifers. In all the battleground states where the exit polls asked the question, the legal abortion side did a lot better than President Obama did. The results in the battlegrounds ranged from 53-40 in North Carolina to 72-25 in New Hampshire. In Missouri, where Rep. Todd Akin was buried in a 55-39 landslide after his "legitimate rape" remark, the margin was 53-44.
What's clear is that to the extent that the right to an abortion is an issue in a popular election, it's a winning one for the pro-choice side. So the pro-life side has effectively two choices.
One is to do everything possible to pretend that the right to an abortion is not an issue and then, if elected, do what you can to restrict it as much as possible. The other choice is to respect that most Americans want women to be able to obtain abortions and to work to minimize their desire to do so. There are two ways to do this.
First, you work to improve access to services, from contraception to neo-natal care, that make it easier for women both to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to carry to term pregnancies they might terminate for lack of such services. Second, you continue to try to persuade them that while they have a right to abortion, it is a right that should not be exercised because abortion is a bad thing.
This approach is pro-life even as it acknowledges that America doesn't want to do away with abortion rights. There's evidence that a majority of Americans are pro-life in this sense. I commend it to the Republican Party as it seeks to recalibrate its identity as a national political organization.