Critical Condition

Life’s Showing

Anytime a poll is released indicating greater support for the pro-life position the mainstream media, like clockwork, tries to either downplay or dismiss the results.  The media’s reaction to Thursday’s release of a Pew Research Center poll showing a 14 percentage point gain in pro-life public support was certainly no exception. In the Washington Post, Jon Cohen quickly cites two other polls — one of Virginia voters and the other conducted by the Washington Post — which purportedly show little change in public attitudes toward abortion.

Interestingly, the Post’s own polls do show pro-life public-opinion gains since 2008, albeit not as dramatic as the Thursday’s Pew poll. However, this past spring a number of surveys, including those taken by the Polling Company, Gallup, Rasmussen, Fox News, and Pew all showed a substantial increase in the percentage of people either willing to identify themselves as pro-life or willing to support greater restrictions on abortion.

Furthermore, the broader gains that pro-lifers have made in public opinion over time can be readily seen in other ways. In fact, Cohen and others of like mind are somewhat naive if they have missed the change in abortion politics over the past several years. For instance, the pro-choice governors who were once thought to be the future of the Republican party have vanished from the political scene. Furthermore, the amount of infighting over the Republican party’s pro-life plank has greatly diminished.

More importantly, Democrats have made a concerted effort to reach out to pro-life voters. Neither Barack Obama nor John Kerry even mentioned support for legal abortion during their respective acceptance speeches at the 2004 and 2008 Democratic conventions. When asked about abortion, President Obama usually talks about the need to reduce abortion and ways of finding common ground. Furthermore, many

Democrats have (unpersuasively) made the argument that more generous welfare programs and more funding for contraceptives are an effective strategy for reducing abortion.

There is certainly not a perfect correlation between public opinion and public policy. And Democrats, for all their rhetoric, are doing precious little on the policy side to offer much encouragement to pro-lifers. That having been said, no political movement has every been hurt by gaining public support. As such, while the Obama administration will continue to present many challenges for the pro-life movement, pro-lifers should take heart. Pro-life efforts have certainly resulted in some incremental, but real gains in the court of public opinion.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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