For not the first time in recent history, when New Yorkers are confronted with the high abortion rates in New York State, they are outraged. And even likely general-election voters who are pro-choice find themselves in agreement with the most pro-life of activists, that the last thing New York needs is more abortion.
Andrew Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act push would increase abortion access in the Empire State by deregulation, such as allowing non-doctors to perform abortions, while trampling on religious freedom in the process. A poll commissioned by the Chiaroscuro Foundation last week found that his priorities, in fact, are not the same as New Yorkers’. John McLaughlin, who conducted the poll, talks about the significance of the poll findings with National Review Online.
KJL: What do New York’s likely voters think about New York’s current abortion rates?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: When we asked the simple statement “Do you agree or disagree that women have sufficient access to abortion in New York?” two-thirds, 66 percent, of all voters agreed — including 66 percent of pro-choice voters. Only 14 percent disagreed. Then when told the actual number of abortions — “Now if you knew that it were true that according to the latest New York State Health Department statistics, in 2010, there were more than 111,000 abortions in New York State, do you agree or disagree that women have sufficient access to abortion in New York?” — agreement jumps to four in five, 79 percent, of all voters. Only 7 percent disagree. Among pro-choicers, 77 percent agree. There really is a strong reaction from virtually all voters that there are too many abortions in New York.
LOPEZ: But most New Yorkers have no idea, don’t they? What can be done about that?
MCLAUGHLIN: We have to inform and educate voters to the facts, given our media, which seem unwilling to cover that story. The Chiaroscuro Foundation has undertaken these polls precisely because these are the kind of simple, straightforward questions the media or NARAL won’t ask.
LOPEZ: Democrats overwhelmingly agree that abortion should be a “last resort” and “rare” — right? Doesn’t that suggest Governor Cuomo should consider seriously tweaking his policy?
MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, 72 percent of all Democrats agree with the statement that “abortion should be a last resort and should remain legal, but rare.” It really sends a major signal to the governor that he should either just leave the law as it is, or consider supporting popular mainstream positions like parental consent, waiting periods, and providing more information and support to expectant mothers. Instead, I think the governor is playing politics to appeal to the most liberal elements of the Democratic party in anticipation of a 2016 run for the presidency. He’s trying to get to Hillary Clinton’s left. It’s transparent politics, but it’s bad policy that would increase abortions in New York.
LOPEZ: 89 percent of Democrats you polled approve of making sure women have accurate information about their options and the facts about abortion before they make a decision about an abortion. Is that not addressed by the governor’s legislation?
MCLAUGHLIN: The governor hasn’t put forward a specific bill yet, but the type of legislation that was introduced last year and referred to in his state-of-the-state address went the other way, with unlimited abortion through the ninth month, which 80 percent of all voters and 75 percent of all Democrats opposed.
LOPEZ: Did anything especially surprise you about the poll?
MCLAUGHLIN: The level of support among younger voters, those who are under 40, for reasonable restrictions. The Sonogram Generation has come of age to vote. Those voters who are about 30 years old were the babies whose mothers had primitive sonograms to see their babies develop. Now they’re using even more sophisticated technology to watch their own babies develop — among women under 40, 65 percent say that they are less likely to vote for a candidate for state assembly or senate who would allow “late term abortions, including partial-birth abortions, which occur between the sixth and ninth month of pregnancy.”
Also while only four in ten, 39 percent, of New York voters are Catholics, and only four int ten Catholics say they attend Church each week (making weekly Mass-goers 16 percent of the voting population), the overwhelming majority of all voters oppose forcing Catholics to violate their conscience and beliefs. Sixty-six percent of all voters disapprove “using a new law to force Catholic Charities and Catholic schools to counsel and refer for abortion against their religious beliefs.” Seventy-one percent of all voters disapprove “using a new law to force all hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, to allow abortions on their premises against their conscience and religious beliefs.”
LOPEZ: Did anything in the poll findings especially disappoint you?
MCLAUGHLIN: The lack of balanced media coverage of this issue.
LOPEZ: Are there political consequences for Cuomo if he does not heed your findings?
MCLAUGHLIN: The governor could find himself losing moderate, pro-choice support, but first he needs an opponent. He’s clearly positioning for 2016 rather than 2014.
LOPEZ: Why is the parental-notification issue so important?
MCLAUGHLIN: There’s so much going on these days, with two parents often working and so many single parents trying to raise their kids. Parents are afraid just of what dangers are posed to their children without their knowledge on the Internet, in their neighborhoods, even in their schools — let alone the idea of securing an abortion without their knowledge. So it’s no surprise that 80 percent of those voters with children under 18 approve of parental notification.
LOPEZ: It is crass to suggest a politician should follow the polls on an issue as sensitive as abortion, isn’t it?
MCLAUGHLIN: Our political leaders should have principles, especially on an issue as important as life. However, hearts and minds need to be persuaded. On this issue it’s clear that as the” Sonogram generation” voters become the vast majority of the electorate, the media’s conventional wisdom will be wrong. This poll is very instructive.
LOPEZ: You’re a lifelong New Yorker. How does Governor Cuomo the son different from Governor Cuomo the father?
MCLAUGHLIN: I don’t know either personally. I’m sure they’re very close. They are clearly both very strong political leaders. They appear to hold core liberal beliefs, but Andrew seems to be more fiscally restrained than his father may have been (look at the 2 percent cap on proprty taxes and his efforts to hold down union pension costs), while more active on liberal social legislation such as gay marriage, abortion, and gun control than his father could have been. I think you’re comparing the 20th-century leader to the 21st-century leader. It’s generational — they are men of their times. Mario made his own way up in Queens. Andrew learned from his father by managing his campaigns, but he was the son of a governor who married a Kennedy and moved to Westchester. He’s facing different challenges and, unlike his father, he’s trying to move up into national politics before events change and he loses an election and the window closes.