Last month’s Gallup poll on attitudes toward abortion generated some concern in pro-life circles. Two years ago, for the first time in a Gallup survey, a majority of Americans described themselves as pro-life. This year, pro-lifers were hoping their position would continue to gain public support — especially after the release of LiveAction’s videos of Planned Parenthood misconduct and the discovery of Kermit Gosnell’s gruesome abortion mill. But respondents were more likely to describe themselves as pro-choice than pro-life by a 49–45 margin.
There are several reasons why pro-lifers should not fret. First, this is only one poll. Polling is far from an exact science, and the decline might have been caused by a skewed survey sample. Second, respondents gave much more encouraging answers to nuanced questions about the legal status of abortion. For example, the percentage of people who said that abortion was morally wrong increased slightly, as did the percentage of people who felt that abortion should be legal in few or no circumstances. Finally, it is possible that the mainstream-media spin machine that spent the first few months of 2011 distorting pro-life legislative proposals and portraying the pro-life movement as anti-contraception may have caused some damage to the pro-life position.
Remember, it was only 16 years ago when the same Gallup survey indicated that only 35 percent of Americans were willing to describe themselves as pro-life. Self described pro-choicers frequently constituted a majority in Gallup surveys during the 1990s. Since then, the debate over banning partial-birth abortion, the improvement of ultrasound images, and the tireless work of pro-life activists around the country have all led to greater support for the pro-life position.
Polls may fluctuate from year to year, but the gains pro-lifers have made in the court of public opinion since the 1990s have been remarkably durable and consistent. The pro-life movement would do well to take heart.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.