CNN Abortion Poll: Good News. Bad News.
Last week CNN released the results of a nationwide opinion poll they conducted between September 9-11, 2011. Abortion was one of the topics covered. The good news is that 62% of the Americans sampled believe abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. The bad news is that this number has remained largely unchanged since 1994 – which is as far back as the CNN report goes.
During that stretch, the same abortion questions were asked in 29 polls. As far back as 1996, 58% of those surveyed indicated that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. The number supporting such an assertion has bounced between a low of 51% (in 1994 & 1995) to a high of 64% (in 2006 & 2009) On average, 58.9% have indicated that all or most abortions should be illegal. Why is that bad news? Because it indicates a sort of cultural stagnation. The percentages are stuck, and though they may seem favorable on one hand, they don't mean anything where it counts.
For going on 40 years now, most abortions in America are performed for reasons most Americans do not think justified. That is the tragic legacy of Roe vs. Wade – an activist verdict that unilaterally bypassed the will of the people. I recently came across an interesting article written by Edward Lazarus, a former clerk for Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court Justice who wrote the majority opinion for Roe. Though Lazarus loved Blackmun like a grandfather and continues to support legal abortion, he has this to say of the verdict:
What, exactly, is the problem with Roe? The problem, I believe, is that it has little connection to the Constitutional right it purportedly interpreted. A constitutional right to privacy broad enough to include abortion has no meaningful foundation in constitutional text, history, or precedent - at least, it does not if those sources are fairly described and reasonably faithfully followed.
Before Roe, the right to contraception established in Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird was a concept that was already barely hanging onto the high ledge of defensible constitutional thinking. In Roe, the Court added a 500 lb. lead weight. And the Court's been looking up at the ledge ever since…
...when Democratic senators oppose a judicial appointment because of the nominee's opposition to Roe, they not only endorse but make a litmus test out of one of the most intellectually suspect constitutional decisions of the modern era. They practically require that a judicial nominee sign on to logic that is, at best, questionable, and at worst, disingenuous and results-oriented. In doing so, they select not for faithful, but for unfaithful, constitutional interpreters to people the federal judiciary.
If abortion laws had been decided through normal legislative means, they would be far different than they stand today – and far more consistent with the views expressed in decades of abortion polling. But here's the rub. Despite polling data that indicates a strong inclination against abortion, a significant loophole remains. When given four choices: that abortion be legal in all circumstances, most circumstances, few circumstances or no circumstances, a solid majority choose door number three. Abortion should only be legal in a few circumstances. Last week, 42% of those surveyed chose this response. But what does that really mean? What are the "few circumstances" in which abortion should be legal? For lots of people, it means abortion should only be legal in "their" circumstances. In other words, though a majority of Americans oppose abortion in theory, many of those same people are suddenly drawn to it when facing a pregnancy they don't want to deal with or they don't want people to know about.
Threat to a mother's life notwithstanding, the idea that abortion is OK in some circumstances but not in other circumstances displays a gross misunderstanding of the issue. Abortion is an all or nothing proposition. Either there's nothing wrong with abortion and people should be free to use it as birth control, or to select the gender of their baby, or to eliminate undesirable traits, etc. – OR abortion is immoral and unjust and must be legislated against, no matter how problematic the timing of the pregnancy or the circumstances of conception. The fact that so many people think the ethics of abortion are relative to the situation is a huge problem. We must not solace ourselves with the notion that 41% of Americans think abortion should be mostly illegal.
In the survey question directly preceding the one already mentioned, respondents were given only three choices: 1) Abortion should be legal under any circumstances. 2) Abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. 3) Abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. Fifty-three percent chose the middle answer, giving the abortion lobby opportunity to declare that 78% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. All that to say, abortion polls can be read any number of ways – which is why people on opposing sides of the abortion issue so often celebrate the same polling data. We see what we want to see. And while I'm encouraged that the number of Americans who believe abortion should be illegal is on the rise – an average of 21.2% since 2005 (the year Abort73 began!) versus 16.7% for the the ten years prior, we must not read into these numbers more than we ought. There is still lots of education to be done.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.