Interpreting the Abortion Polls

Adam Serwer, writing at Mother Jones, rightly points out that the fact that Gallup is now finding that more Americans identify themselves as “pro-life,” and fewer as “pro-choice,” doesn’t mean that their underlying views about abortion policy have changed. On those underlying views, here’s his spin:

[A] large majority—77 percent—of Americans support abortion being legal in all or “certain circumstances,” and just 20 percent of Americans are actually “pro-life” in the sense that opponents of legalized abortion understand the term.

Here are the latest numbers: As of May 3–6, 20 percent of Americans think abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances,” 39 percent say it should be “legal only in a few circumstances,” 13 percent say it should be “legal under most circumstances,” and 25 percent say it should be “legal under all circumstances.”

The vast majority of opponents of legalized abortion have been willing to bestow the “pro-life” label on politicians who do not take the position that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. George W. Bush, for example, favored exceptions to a ban for cases where pregnancies threatened the mother’s life or resulted from rape or incest. One might say, then, that his position amounted to thinking that abortion should be legal “only in a few circumstances.” The two relatively life-protective positions get a combined 59 percent, the two less-protective positions get 38 percent.

(H/t Alana Goodman)

P.S. Just to spell it out a bit more, it sure seems as though some of the people who call themselves “pro-choice” favor more life-protective policies than, say, NARAL or the president do.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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