The Corner

Politics & Policy

An Ill-Advised Tattoo

In response to The Left Discovers Democracy

Katha Pollitt advises her readers to “tattoo this on your brain: Abortion rights is the majority position.” It’s not really true. I reviewed the data that show a more complicated truth recently:

The public is ambivalent about abortion. People who favor legal abortion can point to a lot of polls that appear to show them in the majority. Because it’s a Supreme Court nomination we are going to be debating, right now they are especially eager to note that polls have pretty consistently shown strong support for Roe v. Wade. In the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, two-thirds of Americans supported it.

But polls that ask other questions about abortion undercut that finding. Gallup has consistently found that a small majority of the public, currently 53 percent, believes that abortion should either be “illegal in all circumstances” or “legal only in a few circumstances.” Only 45 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in the first trimester “when the woman does not want the child for any reason,” and only 28 percent think it should be generally legal in the second trimester.

Roe and its successor cases require abortion to be legal for any reason in the first and second trimesters. (They allow bans after fetal viability, so long as they include an exception when a doctor believes abortion is necessary for the physical or emotional health of the woman.)

In short: Most Americans do not want a ban on abortion, and favor its availability especially early in pregnancy and in cases of rape and incest, threats to the mother’s life, and severe fetal abnormality. But they also favor restrictions that are incompatible with current Supreme Court jurisprudence.

The abortion lobby is quite rational in not wanting abortion policies to be set democratically. If they were, it would lose a lot of ground.

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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