Do Americans Stand With Pro-Lifers on Stopping Abortions?
For years, pro-life advocates have sent a powerful message: As evidenced by the drop in medical and chemical abortions, as abortion clinics close and states enact life-saving legislation, the majority of the American people oppose abortion and want to protect the life of the unborn.
Is this true?
Public Opinion on Abortion
Citing recent polling by the Knights of Columbus, the Family Research Council’s Arina Grossu told The Stream that it is true. “The majority of Americans are pro-life,” she said. “In fact, more than half of Americans (53%) believe that abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, to save the life of the mother, or never be permitted under any circumstance. Only one-quarter (25%) of Americans believe that abortion should be allowed in the first trimester, meaning only during the first three months of a pregnancy.”
“Gallup polling also shows that 50% of Americans think that abortion should only be legal under certain circumstances,” continued Grossu. “Americans are pro-life and want pro-life laws. Perhaps that’s why the 334 pro-life laws enacted in just the past five years alone account for 30% of all pro-life laws enacted since 1973.”
2016 CPAC pro-life panelist and LifeSiteNews U.S. Bureau Chief Ben Johnson agreed with Grossu. In an email, he said that Americans “support more robust protections for the unborn than our legal status quo. Americans’ evolution on how they see the unborn during my own lifetime shows that we are building momentum.”
However, the Stream contributor said things are not settled. “Fluctuating poll results prove how important it is for the pro-life movement to communicate the narrative. There is every reason to believe the pro-life movement may be at the crux of a breakthrough moment in the next generation — if we properly frame the debate.”
Polling is always tricky, and the results depend on a number of factors. Contrary to the Knights of Columbus poll cited by Grossu, for example, a 2013 Gallup survey found that a whopping 61 percent of Americans said they want abortion legal in the first trimester. Support for later abortions dropped precipitously — 27 percent of Americans wanted second-trimester abortions legal, and only 14 percent backed third-trimester abortions.
Additionally, how people identify themselves has changed in recent years, with the “pro-life” label preferred in some years and “pro-choice” in others, according to Gallup. Gallup also found that more Americans believe abortion is “morally wrong” than “morally acceptable,” though the “acceptable” position has grown in recent years.
And even the Knights of Columbus’ most recent poll, released in July, showed that while young Americans were most likely to describe themselves as “pro-choice,” they were also more likely than Generation X and Baby Boomers to support more strictly regulating abortion so that it is only legal in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother.
Other evidence reveals that in terms of implementing pro-life legislation, Americans are more pro-life than some of the polling data suggests. Whether or not they’re becoming more pro-life, they’re not becoming more pro-abortion.
At a D.C. pro-life rally on Sunday attended by this reporter, Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said at the rally that he has seen the age of advocates and activists drop precipitously over the four decades he’s been leading protests. The annual March for Life, which brings over 100,000 people to Washington in the middle of winter, is mostly attended by high school and college students.
On regulations, the public generally stands with pro-life legislative priorities. Johnson noted that “one poll showed 64 percent of Ohioans — including a plurality of Democrats — believe abortion should be illegal once a heartbeat is detected, which would limit abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy.”
Likewise, the Knights of Columbus poll found (emphasis theirs):
Though 51 percent of Americans say they are pro-choice, about 8 in 10 Americans support substantial restrictions on abortion (78 percent), and would limit it to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy. This number includes 62 percent of those who identify as pro-choice, 85 percent of African Americans and 84 percent of Latinos.
Going back to Gallup, survey questions in 2011 showed that Americans favor a number of pro-life regulations, such as parental notification and a 24-hour waiting period. Likewise, various polls in recent years have found Americans oppose late-term abortions, and YouGov showed earlier this year that Americans continue to support limiting the use of federal funds for abortions.
On the Other Hand
But perhaps most importantly, public opinion is generally supportive of first-trimester abortions. Many of the popular regulations that would explicitly ban abortions, such as the late-term abortion ban, look at second-trimester and third-trimester abortions — which, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), account for less than 10 percent of abortions that took place in 2012.
Furthermore, the public supports Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion company. The group has ingratiated itself into the public’s mind as a women’s health provider, and it receives over $500 million in federal tax dollars.
Lastly, the public’s support for, and use of, contraceptives is hugely problematic. Many forms of birth control double as abortion-inducing drugs and devices, which means Americans support, and cause, abortions out of ignorance. One of the more popular Long-Acting Reverse Contraceptives, or LARC, is the intrauterine device (IUD). LARCs, and especially the IUD, are used with increasing frequency by women, despite the potential to end unborn life.
So, the American people don’t stand with pro-lifers on first-trimester abortions, which is where most abortions take place. And they don’t realize they’re causing abortions by using certain forms of birth control.
But they do support parental notification laws for minors, 24-hour waiting periods, alternative options being provided to women by doctors before having an abortion and other laws that would be in place throughout pregnancy — all of which would likely lower the odds of a woman choosing abortion instead of life.
So are Americans standing with pro-life advocates against abortion? At the margins, yes. But in terms of putting a serious dent in the million abortions the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute counts each year, not really.
Editor’s Note: See the author’s analysis of a similar question: In Light of SCOTUS, Are Pro-Lifers Winning?.