The headlines are greatly distorting the new Gallup poll that seems to show that most Americans are ‘pro-life.’ Actually reading the data reveals quite the opposite. It’s true that 50% of respondents identify themselves as ‘pro-life,’ but it’s also true that fully 77% of respondents think abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. Being ‘pro-life’ clearly does not equal being ‘anti-abortion’ in the minds of the participants.
Gallup commentary notes that, “While Americans’ identification as ‘pro-choice’ has waned over the past year, their fundamental views about the morality and legality of abortion have held steady.” Since 2001, at least half of Americans polled have consistently said that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, with 52% saying so today, compared to 50% in May 2011. Plus, another 25% want abortion to be legal in ALL cases. That’s a total of 77% who currently support legal abortions.
“It is notable that while Americans’ labeling of their position has changed, their fundamental views on the issue have not,” concludes Gallup. While the poll states that 51% believe abortion is morally wrong, the majority is also clearly unwilling to impose their beliefs on others.
Words and their definitions are easily manipulated—especially through guilt and moralizing. ‘Pro-choice’ does not mean ‘pro-abortion’ any more than ‘pro-life’ means ‘anti-abortion’—as the poll results show. The definition of being pro-choice is (or used to be) simply believing that women have the right to control their own bodies. Legal abortion and birth control are both tools that can serve that end, as is the choice not to use either. Every woman has the right to follow her own conscience and the medical advice she receives.
Individuals and organizations who fight for women’s bodily integrity need to be clear with their definitions. The far right is doing everything it can to muddy the waters, making ‘pro-choice’ a repugnant way of viewing oneself. As Gallup admits in its conclusions (with my italics), “question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.” Exactly.
Most Americans are pro-civil rights, including choice over one’s body—when the case is plainly stated!