Last week, the abortion-advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America released the results of a poll that they’re using to claim a strong majority of Americans espouse “pro-choice” views and support access to abortion. Their conclusion has been picked up by a range of media outlets including the Hill, Politico, and Salon.
But the actual results tell a different story: The poll found that 23 percent of respondents said they believe abortion is morally acceptable and should be legal. Forty-five percent said they personally oppose abortion, but do not feel that the government should place restrictions on it. About 25 percent said abortion should be illegal.
Unsurprisingly, NARAL is spinning the results to suggest that a high percentage Americans think abortion should be legal and reject restrictions on it. However, there are two important takeaways here. The first is that regardless of whether or not people think abortion should be legal, a very high percentage of Americans are opposed to it.
Second, the NARAL survey conveniently does not ask respondents about their opinions on specific abortion restrictions. In fact, those saying they are personally opposed to abortion but think it should be legal merely answered affirmed that they “don’t believe government should prevent a woman from making [the abortion] decision for herself.” NARAL is doubtless aware of the substantial body of survey research which shows that a range of incremental pro-life laws – parental-involvement laws, informed-consent laws, and late-term abortion bans — enjoy very broad public support.
Plenty of polls have shown that the pro-life position has made some nice gains in the court of public opinion during the past 20 years. Yet pro-lifers should not take this progress for granted. NARAL’s survey does show that abortion is still an issue about which many Americans feel deeply conflicted, meaning the continued success of pro-life candidates and pro-life legislation depends in no small part on good outreach efforts and smart messaging.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New