Behind the Hype of Gallup’s New Abortion Poll

Cristina Kladis

The results of Gallup poll released yes­ter­day found that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans who iden­ti­fy them­selves as “pro-choice” is at a low of 41%, while 50% of U.S. adults now describe them­selves as “pro-life.” Amer­i­cans who iden­ti­fy as “pro-choice” is one per­cent­age point off Gallup’s low­est ever record­ed low, which was record­ed in May 2009.The per­cent­age of “pro-lif­ers” is up among Repub­li­cans, Democ­rats and Inde­pen­dents.Along with this poll, Gallup also recent­ly found that 89% of respon­dents in a Val­ues and Beliefs sur­vey thought birth con­trol “moral­ly accept­able.” Of Roman Catholic respon­dents, 82% agreed. This sta­tis­tic is of inter­est as over 40 Catholic insti­tu­tions and orga­ni­za­tions are suing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion over a man­date in the Afford­able Care Act that requires all employ­er health insur­ance plans cov­er the cost of con­tra­cep­tives, ster­il­iza­tion and the morn­ing-after pill.
Though the pro-life find­ings have been dis­sem­i­nat­ed wide­ly, not many arti­cles includ­ed with these results Gallup’s notice that the find­ings could be as tem­po­ral as they were when at the pre­vi­ous record low in 2009.“It remains to be seen whether the pro-life spike found this month proves tem­po­rary, as it did in 2009, or is sus­tained for some peri­od,” the polling ser­vice not­ed.Per­haps a more note-wor­thy sta­tis­tic from the Gallup poll is that from the options of “ille­gal in all cir­cum­stances,” “legal under cer­tain cir­cum­stances” and “legal under any cir­cum­stances,” 52% of Amer­i­cans fell in the mid­dle, believ­ing abor­tions should be legal under cer­tain cir­cum­stances. Only 20% of those polled were in favor of mak­ing abor­tion ille­gal in any sit­u­a­tion while in 2009, 23% of peo­ple polled thought abor­tion should be ille­gal in any sit­u­a­tion.Not­ing this, Andrew Rosen­thal argued in a New York Times edi­to­r­i­al:The smart move for abor­tion rights advo­cates is to work on expand­ing the immoral-but-legal com­mu­ni­ty instead of try­ing to win con­verts to the moral camp, and to make it clear that the ‘pro-choice’ label refers to a legal, prag­mat­ic posi­tion and not nec­es­sar­i­ly to a moral ide­al.But it’s ques­tion­able how use­ful these labels are at all. Since 1975, most Amer­i­cans have agreed with keep­ing abor­tion pro­ce­dures with­in the bounds of the law to some extent, and 52 per­cent still share this view today. Around a quar­ter sup­port total legal­iza­tion, while a fifth believe that abor­tions should be banned out­right.On this trend, Rachel Mad­dow notes:If recent his­to­ry is any guide, this will once again gen­er­ate big headlines—when pro-choice” is in ascen­dance, it’s assumed to be the sta­tus quo, which appar­ent­ly makes it less news­wor­thy –but I’d rec­om­mend cau­tion before either side of the fight over­re­acts to today’s data.Yes, there’s some inter­est in self-imposed labels — though rely­ing on one volatile Gallup poll may not be the best met­ric — but how one describes him­self or her­self on repro­duc­tive rights isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly indica­tive of one’s larg­er pol­i­cy perspective.
Cristi­na Kladis is an In These Times sum­mer 2012 intern.
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