The following graph shows how views on abortion have changed over time by political persuasion:
Ronald Reagan’s famous Morning in America ad explicitly focused only on economic prosperity. The aesthetics hinted at cultural issues, but they were an afterthought. The modest differences between liberals and conservatives at the time explain why. By the time of Pat Buchanan’s Culture War speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, in constrast, sentiments had diverged significantly.
The divergence continues to grow, much to the chagrin of Conservative Inc. It works hard ensuring the respectable right doesn’t fall too far behind the left. Conservatism Inc is tasked with ensuring that conservatism is the progressivism of five years ago. That it is liberalism’s shadow. The conservative case for X has become a meme because in so many cases–same-sex marriage, drug legalization, assisted suicide–it fits like a glove. But there are a handful of issues, like guns and abortion, where it doesn’t work. That’s not for lack of trying by the neo-liberal establishment, either.
It would behoove conservatives to understand the reasons for these divergent outcomes. Leaning on Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations framework, I suspect it has to do with harm reduction, a dimension of high importance to those on the left but also of moderate importance to those on the right. The harm reduction cases for legalizing same-sex marriage, drugs, and suicide are easy to make. The one for abortion, especially when the fetus is granted some sort of personhood status, is much harder. There is a reason the most effective arguments for gun rights involve self defense, especially of the most vulnerable (ie, a gun is the great equalizer between a small woman and a burly assailant).
GSS variables used: ABANY, YEAR, POLVIEWS(1-3)(4)(5-7)