Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set a floor vote Wednesday on the Democrats’ bill to legalize abortion up until birth. It’ll fail, but the real point is to score points with the party’s base and (hopefully) with swing voters now leaning Republican.

Problem is, those groups are at odds on abortion, too.

That divide has long been concealed since the Supreme Court took abortion law largely out of the voters’ hands, allowing most Americans to not think about it while the two extremes waged symbolic warfare. Yet the fact is that most of Americans are neither completely pro-life nor totally pro-choice, but a mix of both.

Each side chooses its polls (and poll questions) to pretend it represents the majority, but the fact is that most who “support abortion rights” are mainly thinking of the first trimester (which is when the vast majority of abortions get done); relatively few back legal abortion in the third trimester.

That’s been so since the day the Supremes issued the Roe ruling, which is why neither extreme has ever had the votes in the House or Senate to pass a national abortion law in case the court overruled Roe (as it now seems likely to do).

Protesters
Pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators get into an argument over their opposing views.
Keiko Hiromi/AFLO/Shutterstock

The main thing that’s changed these last five decades is that Democrats became the “pro-choice” party, and Republicans the “pro-life” one, with middle ground increasingly scarce.

There are many recriminations that the Democrats didn’t “do something” since 1973 to legalize abortion, but it didn’t happen for the same reason Republicans didn’t legislatively ban abortion — neither side had enough of a majority to do so. There were pro-abortion rights Republicans and anti-abortion Democrats throughout those decades.

Maybe the middle ground on abortion will rise again in US national politics post-Roe, but it’ll take time for the politicians to move beyond symbolic gestures aimed at the extremes, and for the many voters who’ve stood quiet to speak up. Who knows? Once it does matter, some Americans may even change their minds.

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