Last week, Gallup released the results of a recent survey on abortion attitudes. The pro-life position made a small gain since the most recent Gallup abortion survey conducted in December 2012. However, the gain was close to the margin of error. As such, much of the subsequent spin is that the Kermit Gosnell trial apparently has done little to shift overall attitudes toward abortion. Even attitudes toward late-term abortion remained similar.
All in all, this is relatively unsurprising. As many pro-lifers have pointed out, the Gosnell trial has received limited coverage from the mainstream media. Furthermore, most of the media coverage it has received portrayed the case as a local crime story. In general, the mainstream media has not used the Gosnell trial to engage broader policy debates about either the legality of abortion or abortion-clinic regulation.
That having been said, the Gosnell trial may still do some long-term good for the pro-life movement. It may lead to better enforcement of existing abortion-clinic regulations. It will likely facilitate the passage of stronger regulations on abortion providers. It may also generate some much needed discussion about the legality of late-term abortions. Overall, the Gosnell trial may well shift the national debate on abortion to terrain that is advantageous to pro-lifers.
Furthermore, the survey still contains some good news for pro-lifers. Respondents were more likely to describe themselves as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice” by a 48 to 45 percent margin. Prior to May 2009, the “pro-choice” position was always more popular in Gallup surveys. However, this most recent survey marks the sixth time in the last nine Gallup surveys where respondents were more likely to describe themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” Overall, this survey contributes to a nice body of evidence that pro-lifers have indeed made long-term gains in the court of public opinion.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New