Supporters of legal abortion had a tough year in 2015. However, a recent Associated Press poll appears to be giving them some optimism. It shows that 58 percent of Americans think that abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases. This is a seven point increase from a similar poll that the AP conducted in January of 2015. Unsurprisingly, this poll has received sympathetic coverage from a range of media outlets including the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, and Reason.
This purported upward shift in support for legal abortion may have excited many in the mainstream media, but much of the coverage misses the broader story. First, public opinion toward abortion has been very stable during the last several years. Every poll that the Associated Press has conducted since 2009 indicates that between 51 percent and 58 percent of respondents think that abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases. Second, current events cause small, but predictable shifts abortion attitudes. Indeed, the AP poll was conducted between December 3 and December 7 — only about a week after the tragic shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.
There are numerous other examples of current events shifting abortion attitudes. The shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009 and the Democrats’ “War on Women” rhetoric during the 2012 election also resulted in small gains in the percentage of people who expressed support for legal abortion. Conversely, the media coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial in 2013 resulted in some gains in pro-life sentiment. There is also research showing that when debates over incremental pro-life legislation is salient — like bans on partial-birth abortions — we also see increased support for the pro-life position.
Overall, the pro-life movement had a very successful 2015. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, nearly 50 state-level pro-life laws were passed this year. The undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress which showed Planned Parenthood employees callously bargaining over the price of aborted baby parts shocked and outraged many Americans. This gave efforts to defund Planned Parenthood some much needed momentum. And in December, for the first time, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. Pro-lifers have a lot to look forward to in 2016 and we should not let this one poll dampen our spirits as we head into the New Year.