New Polls Find Americans Overwhelmingly Pro-Life, But They Reject That Label

Three in four Americans support abortion restrictions after three months of pregnancy. Yet experts weigh in on why approximately half as many self-identify as “pro-life.”

By Josh Shepherd Published on January 16, 2019

Fully 75 percent of Americans support limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy — or greater restrictions, a new Maris Poll revealed Tuesday. Yet, consistent with Gallup and other surveys, the opinion firm’s in-depth study shows only 38 percent currently self-identify as pro-life.

“This weekend, you have the March for Life,” said Barbara Carvalho, director of The Marist Poll, on a conference call with reporters. “You also have the Women’s March. It’s characterized as being one side or the other side.”

“What we hope to provide through this research is [to show] there is a lot of common ground.”

Where U.S. Laws Stand Today

March for Life president Jeanne Mancini, who will serve as the cheerful emcee as thousands gather for the annual march this weekend, told The Stream that media reporting rarely looks at the nuances in public opinion.

Jeanne Mancini

Jeanne Mancini

“It depends on how you ask the question,” she said. “If you ask about abortion limitations, people’s policy preferences are not reflective of the law of our land. This shows public opinion is definitely shifting in the direction of life.”

Currently, the Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) allow abortions to be performed up to birth in many instances. In 2007, a national ban on the partial-birth abortion procedure was upheld.

Further, states have been empowered to ensure some standard of care through informed consent, safety regulations, and other policies. Pro-choice research group Guttmacher Institute reports that 424 pro-life laws have been enacted in the states since 2010.

“Is public opinion 100 percent pro-life?” Mancini asked. “No. But is it moving in the right direction? Yes. And that’s how we change hearts and minds.”

Science and Accuracy

The annual survey has long been sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. The world’s largest Catholic civic organization, the Knights were recently criticized by certain Democratic members of Congress.

Barbara Carvalho

Barbara Carvalho

Since 2007 the Knights have partnered with the Marist Poll, known for its work with NBC News, NPR, and other mainstream outlets. Marist used the latest U.S. Census survey as a guide.

“These results are balanced to reflect the American population,” stated Carvalho. “The survey is balanced by age, gender, region, income, and race. We check those demographic characteristics to ensure our survey reflects what the population of the U.S. looks like.”

Despite some positive findings, pro-life advocates also found gaps in public backing and knowledge of their cause. While 54 of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, 39 percent support this policy. In addition, 35 percent of Americans believe a fetus is “part of a woman’s body” while 56 percent acknowledge it as a unique life.

“Is public opinion 100 percent pro-life? No. But is it moving in the right direction? Yes. And that’s how we change hearts and minds.” – Jeanne Mancini

This year’s March for Life theme — ”Unique from Day One” — directly responds to that latter question. Physicians such as Dr. Kathi Aultman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists will address the outdoor gathering Friday on the National Mall.

The rally will notably include public officials of both parties. These include Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-LA).

Public Opinion More Complex Than Simple Labels

Experts sought to reconcile why the labels of pro-life and pro-choice did not correspond to policy views of the public.

“On abortion, the landscape is markedly different than the way the debate goes in the news,” said Andrew Wallberg, vice president of communications at the Knights of Columbus. “The middle is very much in favor of abortion restrictions — [including] the majority of people who identify as pro-choice.”

A separate survey released Monday by Students for Life of America studied the views of 18 to 34-year-olds. 41 percent of these Millennials expressed support for overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. The Marist Poll reported 65 percent of adults combined that reject Roe. Specifically, 16 percent want abortion to be illegal and 49 percent to have states restrict it.

83 percent of respondents said that laws should protect the well-being of both mothers and their children in the womb.

These majorities underline for Jeanne Mancini how flexible the labels are. “We live and move and breathe in this policy world that’s well-versed on these issues,” said Mancini. “But I don’t think the general American public defines these terms the same way we do. There’s some confusion over specifics.”

Mancini recalled a focus group from three years ago. She watched from behind one-way glass as people responded honestly to a researcher. “When asked what it means to be pro-life or pro-choice, almost no one could answer that question,” she said. “Then we got down to the nitty-gritty questions. Like, Do you believe abortion is okay at this certain stage?

“Often their answers didn’t necessarily reflect how they self-identified.”

Common Ground and Media Bias

The extensive Marist survey found several points of overwhelming agreement. 83 percent of respondents said that laws should protect the well-being of both mothers and their children in the womb. In addition, it found 75 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions in foreign countries.

Yet, in one of its first 2019 legislative actions, the new Democratic majority in the House opposed the majority of Americans. On January 3, a Democratic budget proposal sought to restore funding for abortion overseas. The White House rejected the bill, and budget negotiations are ongoing.

Forty-six years following the Roe v. Wade decision, heated public debate over the abortion issue shows no signs of cooling down. Because the annual march uniquely coalesces diverse pro-life groups, the event has been called “the Olympics for researchers studying media-bias issues” by journalism experts at GetReligion.

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The global religion resource notes that coverage of the annual march has slowly begun to reflect both sides, as Jeanne Mancini also affirms.

“Media coverage of the March for Life has improved quite a bit over the last few years,” said Mancini, president of the nonprofit group since 2012. “Is there accurate representation considering we are the largest annual pro-life and human rights march in the world, that I’m aware of? Probably not.”

“But it’s certainly moving in the right direction.”

 

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