A second answer follows on (in my mind, and I've still not read past Collins's question): Rights in the form of equality appeal to virtually all Americans. Gay rights have mostly taken the form of equality rights: equal access to marriage, to employment, to restaurants and shops. Gay rights have also taken the form of privacy rights, that is, the freedom to make your own decisions about what to do with your body, but nobody recently has bothered with trying to stop gay people from having sex with each other. The idea of criminalizing sodomy seems ridiculous, especially when heterosexuals are deeply involved in the practice, and the notion of banning it only for gay couples brings us back to the equality principle that resonates with virtually all Americans.
Now, I'll read the rest of Collins, who begins by asserting that there are some "easy" answers to her question. She begins with:
Obviously, abortion is an issue that only relates to one gender, at one particular stage in their lives.Abortion doesn't even relate to men?! That's perfectly obtuse. Obviously — I'll use her adverb — a man contributed sperm and has the prospect of becoming a father. He might participate in the decisionmaking process — even if the law gives the final call to the woman. Is Collins unable to conceive of a man who cares about his own offspring, who would do what an honorable man should do and promise to love and protect that woman and the unborn person they have caused to come into existence? The Obvious World of Gail Collins is bereft of moral reasoning. Ironically, the abortion right as defined by the Supreme Court is premised on our capacity as human beings to engage in serious moral reasoning.
Collins goes on to talk about the way legislators "cloak" their anti-abortion bills in the language of "public safety." Of course, if you know the law in this area, you know that portraying the bill as a genuine health matter is necessary to defending it in court. If it's really about making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion when she wants it — at least before the unborn is, as they say, "viable" — it's a nullity under current constitutional doctrine.
Collins sardonically wishes for "less subtle state legislators." She'd like to see the anti-abortion legislators act more like the Arizona legislators in the recent to-do over a right to discriminate when your reason is religious. Those legislators tripped the public's passion for equality. But what's the parallel for abortion? It would take the form of expressing great love and care for unborn babies. That would doom the law in the upcoming legal proceedings (unless Supreme Court precedent is ultimately overruled), but would it work on the public? I think you'd get the same old complexity about whether to see the unborn as a human being entitled to at least a little equality or whether to see women's equality as containing a crucial element of a need to control her body's reproductive function.
Collins doesn't examine these complexities, nor does she even go back to the idea that "abortion... only relates to one gender," which works to some extent to make abortion rights into an equality question about we engage in our political debate. (Legally, it's the right of privacy, the individual's authority over her body.)
Instead, Collins switches to the old income-equality theme:
The biggest difference between the fortunes of gay rights and abortion rights, however, is that politicians who vote to limit women’s rights to control their own bodies know that, for the most part, they’re only hurting poor people.The biggest difference?! Aw, come on. The biggest difference is that abortion — to those who oppose it — involves killing a baby. But Collins trips happily toward the end of her column, talking class politics.