Politics & Policy

Polling Life

(© 2012 Gallup, Inc.)
Reading Gallup’s latest abortion polling.

Gallup this week reported that 41 percent of Americans identify themselves as “pro-choice,” down seven points since last July. Just what does this mean? What can be done with these numbers? National Review Online gathered some experts to explore these questions.


After nearly 40 years of Roe, we seem to be in the midst of a sea change.

A victory lap is well deserved, even as pro-life advocates pant from exhaustion in trying to hold the line against attempted advances of the Planned Parenthood abortion agenda to infiltrate our private insurance premiums, our health-care system, and even our religious organizations. It seems that this overreach has awakened a sleeping giant.

But an honest and strategic assessment must also consider a myriad of outside forces that seem to have unwittingly united with our directed efforts in order to form the swelling waves of this sea change. A few immediately come to mind. First is the existence of millions of women who sadly learned the hard way about what abortion does to one’s body, mind, and relationships. Another is the life-affirming sensitivities of a generation of young people who know they could have been legally aborted. And last, but certainly not least, is a generation of men who are not even consciously aware that legalized abortion has robbed them of the meaning of manhood — the privilege of protecting, providing for, and making a gift of themselves to the women and children that they could be loving instead of using and discarding. 

As we rejoice in the Gallup poll’s sign of hope, let us redouble our efforts in a way that can effectively harness the power of the outside forces that exist because of the fallout from a legally sanctioned culture of death.

— Dorinda C. Bordlee is co-founder with Nikolas T. Nikas of the Bioethics Defense Fund, www.BDFund.org.


Gallup has asked people whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice 25 times since 1995. In its release, Gallup reports that “identification with the labels has shifted from a wide lead for the pro-choice position in the mid-1990s, to a generally narrower lead for ‘pro-choice’ — from 1998 through 2008 — to a close division between the two positions since 2009.” Is the needle moving in other surveys?

Fox News shows uneven movement on its question, asked 19 times since 1996. Its latest question, from 2011, found that 50 percent called themselves “more pro-life” and 42 percent “more pro-choice.” In 2009, those responses were 47 and 44 percent, respectively.

In 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute asked people separate questions about the labels; 35 percent said the term “pro-life” described them very well and another 31 percent somewhat well; 38 percent said the term “pro-choice” described them very well and 32 percent somewhat well. The overlapping identity was present in almost all demographic groups. In the survey, 53 percent said it was more “socially acceptable” to be pro-choice and 32 percent pro-life. In another question, 58 percent said they had seen an ultrasound image recently. Younger people were much more likely to have seen one than those over 65. This experience may be changing attitudes on some abortion-related questions, but it is too early to say.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


The Gallup poll’s showing this week that a record-low 41 percent of Americans call themselves “pro-choice” confirms other indicators that people are increasingly troubled with abortion on demand, its radical mouthpieces, and the cavalier attitude toward our nation’s most vulnerable.

Americans know what they see. The out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality that fueled the abortion-rights movement for decades has been upended by “warm the heart” sonograms and pictures of fetal development and by “shock the conscience” images of dismembered fetuses and the partial-birth abortion procedures.

Americans know what they hear. Even attention-addled Americans have probably learned over the past few years some facts and figures about Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. It receives a million dollars a day in taxpayer money and is the largest abortion provider in the United States. A pregnant woman who enters a Planned Parenthood facility is 42 times more likely to get an abortion than not. She may live with the guilt and harm, but Planned Parenthood cashes in on her “choice.”

Americans know who they are. Focusing on the woman, her career, her financial situation, and her possible stretch marks is so 1970s. America is a child-centric society. Even though fewer women are having babies, and they’re having fewer babies than at any time in our nation’s history, we as a nation cherish and coddle children. Add to that the increasing infertility of women in what should be their child-bearing years who have called themselves “pro-choice” but now wish to be called “Mommy.”

The 41 percent figure actually belies the nuanced views Americans hold on abortion. In a poll released last week by the Susan B. Anthony List, 77 percent of American adults said they would favor a ban on sex-selective abortions, which occur when the parents don’t want a child of a particular sex, usually a girl. Less than 10 percent of Americans subscribe to the Obama-Pelosi-Clinton viewpoint of unlimited abortion for anyone, anytime, anywhere. Ironically, the most pro-abortion president in U.S history has pushed more people away from his views.

— Kellyanne Conway is president of the polling company, inc./WomanTrend.


The results from Gallup bear out years of Americans trending away from the pro-choice label. As men and women of all ages and political ideologies come to terms with what “choice” actually means, it’s no surprise that they shed the hollow branding. The big “Abortion liberates” lie and those who promulgate it are being unmasked. The other side knows this and admits it has been steadily losing ground with youth. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s number one abortion provider, has been revealed for what it is: an abortion-centered, profit-driven business. Those who would have us continue to fund abortion with our tax dollars are arguing in direct opposition to public opinion. President Obama, his allies in Congress, and the abortion lobby have radically overstepped their bounds, causing Americans to turn away.

This is exactly what we’ve seen across the country, as state legislatures pass more pro-life legislation than ever before. Cheered on by the pro-life grassroots, state leaders are working tirelessly to enact laws restricting abortion on the grounds of fetal pain, parental notification, and women’s right to know. Americans are increasingly identifying with the position of protecting human life. It’s not shocking that we’re seeing stronger pro-life opinions.

— Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List.


Young Americans today have grown up in a culture in which abortion is available on demand, and they have seen the devastating consequences of this reality. They and their friends have had abortions. They know it is not a solution but an agony of a choice that cannot be undone. Scientific advances have shown the humanity of the child beyond a doubt. Ultrasound technology and imaging reveals the developing child to us in ways that are clear and irrefutable. Advances in prenatal care mean that pre-term children are viable at earlier and earlier ages; we are holding our children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren at ages at which other children are being aborted. The promotion of abortion is clearly related to a worldview that sees human life as expendable, rather than a worldview that recognizes the dignity and inherent value of every single life. Young people know that every culture and time is judged according to how it treats the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. We can be proud that growing numbers of young people understand that exercising their freedom means defending those among us who are the weakest and most vulnerable, which most clearly applies to the smallest, most innocent living in our society.

Anna Halpine is the founder of World Youth Alliance.


In recent years, abortion has been thrust onto the national stage in ways never before seen, from taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare to the very public Mafia-like beating-up of the Susan G. Komen Foundation by Planned Parenthood to ultrasound battles in state legislatures. Through the undeniable evidence of ultrasounds, Americans have been given the chance to see that abortion is truly the killing of an innocent child in the womb. Because of the militant defense of abortion by Planned Parenthood, Americans have been given the chance to see how the nation’s largest abortion chain pads its pockets by performing more abortions and obtaining grants through deception and outright lies. It is even through the presidency of Barack Obama that Americans are given the chance to learn that sometimes aborted babies live and the president would rather protect the abortionists than give those children protection under the law.

There has never before been a time in our nation’s history where science has advanced so far that we are able to see images of preborn babies in the womb, and where everyone has the platform through social media to send those images out to family and friends. A human is a human whether it is in its mother’s womb or not, and no matter if it was conceived by rape or a through a loving relationship. This generation is coming to understand that there is no reason to destroy that baby’s life.

Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America.


These new numbers from Gallup showing 50 percent of Americans identifying themselves as pro-life reconfirm (yet again) what we’ve long known: The Roe v. Wade policy of abortion for any reason doesn’t sit well with the majority of Americans.

But the self-identification question doesn’t tell the real story.

Read further and you’ll find a far more accurate picture of the country’s attitudes on abortion in this question: “Do you think abortions should be legal under any/only under certain/illegal in all circumstances?” (Gallup further probes to break down “certain circumstances” into “most” and “few.”)

A substantial majority — 59 percent — opposes the vast majority of the 1.2 million annual abortions (20 percent “illegal in all” and 39 percent “legal only in a few.”) According to Gallup’s own data, these combined figures have garnered a majority in every Gallup poll since 1994.

It is also noteworthy that no more than one-fourth of Americans favor abortion being legal for all reasons. Yet in our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, the law allows abortion until birth for any reason — a scandal that Congress must correct by passing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 3803).

These new Gallup numbers again underscore the fact that right-to-life efforts on behalf of mothers and their unborn children are touching hearts and changing minds.

— Carol Tobias is president of the National Right to Life Committee.


I should think that the answer is obvious. My book The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life and the Question of Justice appeared in print just a little over a year ago, and since then the number of people convinced by its arguments have driven down the number of people who describe themselves as “pro-choice.”

Actually, I’m not entirely joking. Not just this book, but other books and articles like it, and ultrasound videos of the human journey towards birth, and women who have talked about the pain of their abortions, and pictures of the unborn posted online by excited expectant mothers, and millions upon millions of conversations, private and public, have moved the hearts of more and more citizens towards a conclusion entirely resonant with the American project. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people, born and unborn, are endowed with inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our efforts, in a dizzying array of projects, are paying off.

— Christopher Kaczor is a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount Univesity in Los Angeles.


The last year has seen the framing of the abortion debate as one between activists for “women’s rights” and those mounting a “war on women.” We began hearing about this so-called war around the time that Congress tried to eliminate taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, again when the Susan G. Komen Foundation initially chose not to renew funding for Planned Parenthood, and now in the midst of the national debate about the Obama’s administration’s HHS mandate. Consequently, one would have expected this to be a very bad year for the pro-life movement. But as the Gallup numbers suggest, it was actually a very bad year for the abortion movement. The number of those calling themselves “pro-choice” is at the lowest level since Gallup began tracking these figures. And this is great cause for hope. My generation of men and women is making it through the haze of the spin that calls standing up for the most vulnerable among us a hatred of women, and we are pulling others out of the smoke with us. In fact, we are realizing that abortion is often used to target females and undermine women more generally. Women in particular are realizing that we do not need to accept the notion that ending life is the mark of a strong woman. We are rewriting the meaning of feminism. We are redrawing the lines of the war on women. And we are winning.  

— Ashley E. McGuire is founder and editor-in-chief of www.Altcatholicah.com.


Recent poll results, which show a significant decline in the number of Americans who identify themselves as “pro-choice,” will no doubt surprise many people. After all, didn’t the Supreme Court claim, in its Casey decision, that it had settled the issue of abortion? Hasn’t abortion become such an integral part of women’s health that it is impossible to conceive of American society without it? That is certainly the conventional wisdom. But this conventional wisdom is utterly wrong, because the power of the truth and love will always find a way into the human heart. As more people experience the wonder of modern sonograms and fetal photographs, they are enthralled by the beauty of human life. And they are repelled by the inhumanity of “pro-choice” advocates who callously speak of unborn people as disposable when inconvenient. People recognize that attitude as false, and unloving. The challenge for defenders of life is to build upon this fundamental sense of the truth about human life, and the love it engenders. Certainly, we must work for laws that give commonsense protection for the unborn, and that encourage the choice for life. But even more important, we must continue to give clear and unambiguous witness to love — by speaking with compassion and kindness about this issue, and by giving practical help to struggling mothers and fathers, and to those who are suffering after an abortion. More and more people are seeing the truth and rejecting the lies. And this is opening the human heart to the love that will ultimately transform our culture.

Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office at the Archdiocese of New York.


Pro-lifers received some good news this week when Gallup released the results of a nationwide survey showing that for the second time, the percentage of Americans who identified themselves as “pro-life” reached the 50 percent threshold. Further, the percentage of Americans describing themselves as “pro-choice” fell to 41 percent — an all-time low. Overall, the long-term trends show consistent gains for the pro-life position.

These survey results were released about one month before the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. This is further evidence that pro-lifers have shrewdly used the legal openings granted to them through Casey to win hearts and minds. Specifically, state-level efforts to enact informed-consent statutes, parental-involvement laws, and fetal-pain bills have resonated with the American public.

Interestingly, many pro-lifers were pessimistic about public-opinion trends during the 1970s and 1980s. Some thought the sharp increase in the number of abortions would give many an emotional incentive to support legal abortion. Furthermore, polls during the 1970s showed that young people were far more supportive of abortion than older Americans. Times have certainly changed. In fact, the resignation of NARAL’s president because of the inability of abortion-rights advocates to effectively engage young people might be the best news of all.

— 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 in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_J_New


While the record-low percentage of Americans who identify themselves as pro-choice is certainly notable, it is also important to note that Americans’ underlying views on abortion are remarkably constant. Those views diverge substantially from the reality of abortion in America.

The percentage of Americans who consider abortion “morally wrong” was unchanged this year at 51 percent. In the latest Gallup poll, 38 percent consider abortion morally acceptable, down from 39 percent last year. A slim majority, 52 percent, think abortion should be legal in some, not all, circumstances, up from 50 percent last year. This number has always been above 50 percent. But how different the reality of the Roe regime is from this consensus for limited access to abortion. According to Gallup’s July 2011 poll on abortion restrictions, 71 percent of Americans think that abortion should be illegal after the first trimester, but under Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, states cannot restrict abortion before viability, late in the second trimester.

Americans don’t want the Roe regime. Perhaps the decline in the percentage that identify themselves as pro-choice will pave the way for political progress toward the consensus for limited abortion. With more than a third of Democrats identifying themselves as pro-life, maybe it will even become a bipartisan issue.

— Greg Pfundstein is executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation.


As with proponents of same-sex “marriage,” proponents of abortion and the culture of death have long used all kinds of media to try to convince the American people that they want something other than what they actually want. They’ve tried to put words in our mouths, thoughts in our minds, and, when allowed, even to speak for us as if we were in complete agreement with their efforts to redefine marriage or eviscerate life in the womb.

Yet, the American people have increasingly decided to speak for themselves on these matters and, just as the people of 31 states have actively upheld marriage in this country, they have also expressed a desire for a culture of life over a culture of death.

This is seen quite clearly in Gallup’s recent polling figures, where 50 percent of those polled considered themselves “pro-life,” while only 41 percent considered themselves “pro-abortion.”

As heartening as this is, here at the Alliance Defense Fund our intent is to continue standing with our allies around the country to convince an even larger portion of the remaining 41 percent to join us in ensuring that the culture of death is swallowed up in life.

— Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the Departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.


Last weekend, I attended a conference of social-science researchers where a variety of papers were presented covering survey methods and opinion trends. The final day of the conference, one of the researchers presented evidence that beliefs about abortion are influenced by one’s parents, and that the higher birth rate among pro-life identifiers has contributed to a flattening off of the prior trend toward increasing “pro-choice” identification.

This sparked an interesting discussion among the panelists and the audience about abortion’s unique nature as an issue, separate from the other “social issues” in the minds of Americans. One of the panelists, who was certainly no conservative, noted astutely that abortion differs from other issues on which trends have shown liberalization of belief because abortion is not “victimless.” But while the Gallup data do not suggest a shift in how Americans view the morality of abortion (most believe it is “morally wrong”), the trend toward higher “pro-life” identification suggests that in the last year there has been a shift in how the label is perceived. The data show that identification with the “pro-life” label has caught up to the number saying that they view abortion as “morally wrong,” seeming to indicate that some who previously agreed with the pro-life moral position but eschewed the label are now more comfortable embracing it.

— Kristen Soltis is the director of policy research at the Winston Group.


The results of Gallup’s poll on public attitudes regarding abortion are striking: A mere 41 percent self-identify as “pro-choice” (by far the most appealing description of those who support abortion rights), while a whopping 50 percent describe themselves as “pro-life.” This is the largest margin of pro-life support ever measured by Gallup since it began polling this question 17 years ago. What explains the shift?

First, advances in biomedical science and biotechnology (including especially in utero imaging technology) have made it impossible to resist the conclusion that the unborn child in the womb is, as a biological matter, a living member of the species Homo sapiens. She is one of us. Given Americans’ widespread intuitive commitment to human equality, it is a very short step to the realization that the failure to extend basic moral regard and legal protections to these immature and vulnerable members of the human family is gravely unjust.

Additionally, the pro-life movement is overwhelmingly populated by energetic, joyful, and humane people (including a large and growing contingent of young women), who demonstrate compassionate concern not only for the unborn child, but also for the mother facing an unplanned pregnancy, and the woman mourning her abortion. Moreover, alongside their loving witness, defenders of the unborn offer reasoned, sober arguments framed in terms that anyone can grasp, regardless of their ideological or religious commitments.

Much of the recent legal and policy agenda of the pro-life movement has likewise emphasized commonsense measures that command support across the political spectrum. Examples include laws promoting informed consent and parental involvement, and laws banning particularly gruesome forms of abortion.

By contrast, the abortion-rights movement is, to its own detriment, increasingly shrill, dogmatic, and extreme. It has aggressively opposed even the most modest efforts (some noted above) to limit abortion. HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius (speaking before NARAL Pro-Choice America) recently declared that she and the sympathetic audience of abortion-rights proponents “are in a war” with those who would defend unborn children. The Obama administration regularly speaks of a “war against women.” At the same time, the administration has stripped Medicaid funds (needed to provide health care to the poor) from states that have voted to withhold tax dollars from entities that provide abortions; terminated federal grants for highly successful programs offering aid to victims of sex trafficking (because the Catholic agencies involved do not provide or refer for abortions); and mandated that nearly every employer in America provide employee health plans that cover drugs that can function as abortifacients (e.g., EllaOne).

Lessons for the future? Pro-lifers should continue their current course of changing hearts and minds by speaking truth in charity and offering concrete aid to unborn children, their mothers, and women suffering from past abortions. At the same time, the law (which both reflects and teaches) must be brought into alignment with the growing realization that all persons, born or unborn, have immeasurable worth in virtue of who they are as members of the human family.

— O. Carter Snead is a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame.


America is a fundamentally pro-life country. That essential truth has been obscured in the recent past by an abortion lobby that has succeeded in presenting a moderate face to the American public.

President Obama attempted to maintain the faux-friendly face of the abortion industry by beginning his administration with language about seeking “common ground” on abortion. But at the same time, his administration has pursued an aggressively pro-abortion policy agenda.

The gap between the rhetoric and reality is finally becoming clear to a larger percentage of the American public. An unregulated, poorly monitored abortion industry has lived for many years in the uneasy space created by Americans’ unwillingness to categorically denounce abortion when others choose it, while at the same time feeling deep moral discomfort, or complete rejection, of abortion for themselves or their loved ones.

With a series of radical pro-abortion moves, culminating in the abortion mandates in Obamacare, that uneasy space has drastically destabilized. Americans have begun to understand that the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade is underway — and that they will be forced to subsidize the abortion agenda, whether they like it or not. 

That kind of destabilization can cause shifts in opinion polling as Americans look for a way to make their voices heard. During the health-care debate, we learned that seven in ten Americans — whether pro-life or pro-choice — do not support subsidizing abortion with their tax dollars. News of the abortion mandate in the health-care exchanges and a mandate for abortion-inducing drugs in the preventive-care requirements are cause for alarm among Americans who might not otherwise be mobilized on the life issue. It is perhaps significant that these new polling numbers appear in the same week that numerous Catholic institutions filed suit to protect their First Amendment right of religious liberty from government officials who would deny them the right to make a choice other than abortion.

The abortion lobby has overreached in its arrogant attempts to impose — and fund — its own ideological agenda. The polling data demonstrate a shift away from the uneasy stasis: A radical movement is forcing people to take sides in the great moral debate of our generation.

And most Americans choose life.

— Charmaine Yoest is president of Americans United for Life.

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