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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.
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Cristina Kladis is an In These Times summer 2012 intern.
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