How America Sees Abortion

What is the mainstream American position on abortion? The question is crucially important right now, because some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are threatening to use abortion as an ideological litmus test for judicial appointments -- and trying to justify their prejudices as mainstream public opinion. They say they'll use their constitutional "advice and consent" clause to protect the country against the alleged "extremists" the Bush administration is nominating for positions in the federal courts. But some of these folks define "extremist" as anyone who disagrees with them. To hear them tell it, the nation wants pro-choice, pro-abortion judges. And, allegedly, only a few religious fanatics disagree. But where, really, is mainstream America on the abortion issue? ABC News reported recently, "Support for Legal Abortion Wobbles." A July 2nd dispatch began, "Public support for legal abortion . . . has slipped back to its lowest level in polls since 1995." The story also says, "While large majorities say it should be legal in dire cases, most also have said abortions should be illegal when done solely to end an unwanted pregnancy." Nuances of gray come into the picture when questions are crafted more precisely than the traditional, "Are you for or against abortion?" The New York Times reminded readers that the answers obtained depend to a large extent on the questions asked. For example, Times writer Tamar Lewin noted that in one poll, only twenty-nine percent said there should be a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion. But "when the same people were asked if there should be a constitutional amendment protecting the life of the unborn child, fifty percent said they would favor one." This ambivalence is not new. In a 1985 Louis Harris poll, a majority said abortion is murder, while a Gallup Poll that same year concluded that over ninety percent thought abortion was sometimes the best way out of a bad situation. Lewin summarized, "people are far more likely to say they favor abortion rights when the question is framed in terms of a woman's right to choose, than when the question talks about protecting an unborn child." A 1998 Associated Press poll found that seventy-eight percent favored permitting abortion to protect the mother's health; seventy-one percent in case of rape; and fifty-eight percent allowing it if the baby was likely to have serious defects. But only thirty-six percent said abortion should be permitted when a woman decides she merely didn't want the baby. In other words -- surprise -- "abortion on demand" is not the mainstream position! You might never guess it from the headlines or the soundbites, but buried deep inside the in-depth articles, you'll find two contrasting viewpoints: First, a majority believes there may be a few extreme situations where abortion is the best solution. But, second, only a small minority favors "abortion for convenience" -- that is, disposing of an unborn baby because he or she would be an inconvenience or an embarrassment. A vocal minority may sometimes masquerade as the majority. But, clearly, the real mainstream wants something less than "open season" on the unborn. For further reference: "Support for Legal Abortion Wobbles." "'Public Views' on Abortion Depend on Questions Asked." "Poll: Abortion Should Remain Legal Within Limits."


Chuck Colson


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