The Corner

Roe and Public Opinion at 40

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Much has been written about this from a pro-life perspective. But especially interesting is the manner in which the mainstream media has chosen to cover this anniversary. With few exceptions, the mainstream media seems to represent a very pessimistic pro-choice movement.  Many Beltway abortion-rights supporters are doubtless pleased with the reelection of President Obama.Yet the January 14 Time magazine cover story, Sarah Kliff’s January 14 Washington Post article, and, to a lesser extent, Gail Collins’s January 10 New York Times column all suggest that supporters of abortion rights are increasingly worried about the future.

The pro-choice movement has good reason for pessimism. These articles show that pro-lifers have developed some legislative strategies that have been quietly effective at lowering the incidence of abortion. More important, pro-choice groups are publicly admitting that they are having trouble engaging young people. When NARAL president Nancy Keenan announced her resignation in May 2012, she expressed concern about an “intensity gap” among young people. Indeed, NARAL’s own survey data indicated that young pro-lifers seemed to see the abortion issue as more important than young supporters of legal abortion. Other survey data supports this: The General Social Survey (GSS) has been asking the same battery of question on the legality of abortion since the early 1970s. During the 1970s and 1980s, young adults were significantly more “pro-choice” than average. However, surveys taken between 2000 and 2006 show that the Millenials are actually the most pro-life demographic cohort. An additional survey taken by the Polling Company this summer found that young people often feel more comfortable restricting abortion in certain circumstances than older Americans do.

Furthermore, during the past 20 years the number of abortion providers has significantly declined. It seems that few young physicians are interested in performing abortions. As a result, foundations sympathetic to legal abortion have created programs and recruit and train the next generation of abortion providers. But according to an article which appeared in The New York Times Magazine in the summer of 2010, these efforts are not bearing much fruit. Many of the physicians who go through these programs do not become abortion providers. Furthermore, those that do provide abortions seem to prefer the safe confines of either a big city or a university campus to rural environs.

Pro-lifers coming to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life this weekend should hold their heads high. We have done a good job overcoming many of the obstacles imposed on us by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Roe not only legalized abortion on demand and made abortion policy resistant to change, it also changed society’s sexual and cultural mores in such a way as to make subsequent restrictions on abortion more difficult to enact. It gave abortion rights mainstream political legitimacy. Moreover, it created a national network of abortion providers with a financial interest in easy access to abortion. Overall, through creativity and dedication, we have done well overcoming many of these challenges.

Of course, the 2012 election was a disappointment.  However, as I often remind pro-lifers, electoral politics is important, but it is not the only game in town. The pro-life movement has become increasingly entrepreneurial, strategic, and innovative. And we have to work harder and smarter than our opponents. After all, the government does not pay us to protect unborn children. Similarly, we have little support from elite institutions in academia, the media, and the entertainment industry. Older initiatives such as sidewalk counseling, local pro-life chapters and crisis pregnancy centers continue to do invaluable work. However, newer outreach efforts including Students for Life of America (SFLA), the Silent No More Campaign, 40 Days for Life, and LiveAction films have already produced very impressive short-term results.  Overall, it should come as no surprise that our opponents are concerned. And I have every confidence if we stay the course, victory will someday be ours. 

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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