Pew Research finds 49% say abortion morally wrong to only 15% who say it is morally acceptable

By Dave Andrusko

PewabortionmoralOver the years NRL News Today has carried many a story about how polling conducted for the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project bungles the abortion issue. Most recent was our analysis of “Pew Poll on Abortion Absurdly Inaccurate” ( which mischaracterized Roe v. Wade as allowing abortion only in the first trimester and then asking people, “Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?”

Today Pew Research came out with new results based on a survey conducted March 21 to April 8, 2013, “among a representative sample of 4,006 adults nationwide.” This time the question was the morality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, stem cell research that does not use human embryos, and IVF. What do we learn?

That overall 49% felt abortion was morally wrong; 23% said abortion is not a morally issue; while only 15 said abortion was morally acceptable. The interesting results come when we breakout the numbers by category.

According to Pew Research

“Fully three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants consider having an abortion morally wrong, as do about two-thirds of Hispanic Catholics (64%). A majority of black Protestants (58%) and about half of white Catholics (53%) say the same. Fewer white mainline Protestants (38%) and religiously unaffiliated adults (25%) hold this view.”

As always church attendance was key: the more people attend, the more they find abortion morally unacceptable.

To repeat the only two groups that did not say abortion is morally wrong are White mainline Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, who, for some reason, are categorized as a religious group.

This 49%, Pew Research says, is “about the same percentage as in previous Pew Research surveys,” which is true enough. But it did represent a 2 point uptick as compared with a survey taken by Pew Research just a few months ago.

I do not have readily at hand (I’m assuming it exists) prior Pew Research on stem cell research. But we have to seriously question whether the respondents understood what they were asked.

For example the percentage of the public that said it was morally acceptable was almost exactly the same whether the question was “medical research that uses embryonic stem cells”–32%– or “medical research that uses stem cells from sources that do not involve human embryos” –33%. (In both alternatives those who said it was “not a moral issue” predominated while those who says it is morally wrong stood at 22% and 16%, respectively.)

What are those sources other than the unborn? They are “adult stem cells” which can be isolated from numerous tissues, including bone marrow, muscle, fat, and umbilical cord blood, just to name a few, and are therefore morally unobjectionably. I’m guessing only a tiny percentage knew that.

And does this make any sense? Just one point more (33% finding it morally acceptable) when human embryos are NOT the source than when they ARE the source (32%)? That is counter-intuitive times ten.

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What if the question was, “Do you personally believe that killing human embryos by extracting their stem cells is morally acceptable, morally wrong, or is not a moral issue”? You can finagle the word “killing” so long as the respondent understands that the human embryo dies when his/her stem cells are removed.

And what if the question added real-life background–that each year over 50,000 people around the globe are treated with adult stem cells and that, to date, there’ve been no breakthroughs using human embryonic stem cells? Because we told the respondent the current state of the science, we’d be accused of tilting the answer

Finally, don’t forget that the question is loaded in first place: whose first inclination is to oppose “medical research?”

Which is not to deny that we still have a long way to go to educate the public on the intrinsic wrongness of harvesting human embryos. But a more thorough examination suggests our plight is not nearly as bad as it looks on first blush.

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