Support for abortion rights declines in America
Public support for abortion rights is ebbing in America while the issue’s importance has fallen on the public agenda, especially for liberal Democrats, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
In 2007 and 2008, Pew found that supporters of abortion rights outnumbered those saying it should be illegal in most or all cases by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.
“By contrast, in two major surveys conducted in 2009 among a total sample of more than 5,500 adults, views of abortion are about evenly divided, with 47 percent expressing support for legal abortion and 44 percent expressing opposition,” Pew said.
What I want to ask readers in this blog is what they think all of this means, especially in light of President Barack Obama’s agenda and other polls which show similar trends.
(PHOTO: Anti-abortion protestor holds sign in front of US Capitol during March for Life in Washington, January 22, 2009/Jonathan Ernst)
In May, we blogged on a Gallup poll that showed “pro-life” Americans (who oppose abortion rights) outnumbering “pro-choice” Americans (who support them) for the first time since the organization began asking that question in 1995. It found 51 percent of Americans referring to themselves as “pro-life” on the issue of abortion versus 42 percent who described themselves as “pro-choice.”
One of the most striking things about the Pew poll is the sharp drop in the percentage of liberal Democrats who regard abortion as a “critical issue” facing the country — to eight percent in August from 34 percent in March 2006. This could suggest that liberal Democrats, focused on the economy and other issues, are far less concerned about the status of abortion rights than they were when George W. Bush was president and the anti-abortion rights Republican Party controlled Congress.
Overall, the percentage of American adults who see it as a critical issue has declined over the same period to 15 percent from 28 percent — in part, no doubt, because of the sour economy and financial crisis. Even among conservative Republicans, this number has fallen to 26 percent from 35 percent.
But conservative Republicans are less compromising on the issue — 44 percent now say the country needs to find a middle ground on abortion, compared with 56 percent in 2006. This may be explained in part by conservative Christian activists and talk radio, who have assailed Obama’s support for abortion rights since his first day in office.
(PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama address at the commencement ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, May 17, 2009, angered some conservative Catholics opposed to abortion rights/John Gress)
Among other things, they accuse Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress of harboring a secret agenda to expand abortion by concealing provisions that would free federal funds for the procedure in the healthcare bills working their way through congress — an allegation denied by the president and his supporters.
Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants — a key Republican base — remain the staunchest opponents of abortion rights, with 64 percent saying they favor making abortion more difficult. Among U.S. Catholics only 44 percent held this view with 47 percent opposed to it. Many conservative Catholics are staunch — and almost single-minded in some cases — in their opposition to abortion rights but the flock is hardly united on the issue.
Where there does seem to be room for middle ground on this highly-charged issue is on the need to reduce the number of abortions in America, which is a goal Obama has endorsed. Sixty-five percent of Americans think it would be good to reduce the number of abortions compared to 59 percent in 2005.
It all raises a number of interesting questions. A few months ago I interviewed Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He said at the time (this was a few weeks after the Gallup poll mentioned above) that the “pro-life movement was winning the hearts and minds of America.”
Do you think this is true? Or is much of the swelling opposition to abortion rights at the moment related to wider conservative views about Obama and so perhaps near its peak? And could it begin to rebound as a priority issue with the wider public if recession ends?
It is also worth asking if liberal Democrats will become more engaged on the issue if, say, they are worried about losing the White House in 2012, and with it a president who would fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court with justices supportive of abortion rights. For many on both sides, the Supreme Court is the big prize that is won through the White House. Would the prospect of “President Sarah Palin” galvanise both party’s bases on the issue?