By Dave Andrusko
On the day before the March for Life, I’m playing catch-up on still another distorted abortion poll, this one courtesy of NBC News & the Wall Street Journal. Some context will help us understand why this poll is so off the mark.
On Monday, NRL News Today wrote about a wildly misleading poll distributed by the Pew Research Center. Along with the many inadequacies, the greatest flaw was to ask people if they wanted to “completely overturn ” an imaginary Roe v. Wade decision, one described by Pew as establishing “a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion” in the first three months.
This is utter nonsense, of course, but the fact that only 29% wanted to “completely overturn” this fictitious decision was heralded as a new day in the abortion debate. Where have we heard THAT before?
Writing about the Pew poll, Michael Muskal of the Los Angeles Times said of Roe that the 1973 decision “held that women had a fundamental constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy in the early months.” Talk about the absence of institutional memory!
As NRLC has pointed out, in 2005 when he was the Los Angeles Times’ Supreme Court reporter, David Savage laid that myth to rest. He wrote
“Blackmun had said that abortion ‘must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.’ So long as doctors were willing to perform abortions – and clinics soon opened solely to do so – the court’s ruling said they could not be restricted from doing so, at least through the first six months of pregnancy.
“But the most important sentence appears not in the Texas case of Roe vs. Wade, but in the Georgia case of Doe vs. Bolton, decided the same day. In deciding whether an abortion is necessary, Blackmun wrote, doctors may consider ‘all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.’
“It soon became clear that if a patient’s ‘emotional well-being’ was reason enough to justify an abortion, then any abortion could be justified.”
Back to the NBC/WSJ poll. The headline on NBC News’ “First Read” was “NBC/WSJ poll: Majority, for first time, wants abortion to be legal.” Errors? Let’s talk about just three.
First, Roe was again incorrectly described as establishing the right to abortion in the first three months. Again, it is true that the number who would “completely overturn” this misrepresented decision is lower than it was seven years ago.
But, as we wrote Monday, what would the response have been—either seven years ago or earlier this month—if they understood what David Savage so thoroughly explained: that taken in conjunction with the companion Doe v. Bolton decision, the outcome was that “any abortion could be justified”?
Second, 41% of the respondents were honest enough to admit that they didn’t know enough about the Roe v. Wade decision to have an opinion. I can’t know this, obviously, but it very likely that a great many more people didn’t either but chose to go ahead and express an opinion anyway.
(When Pew asked, only 62% knew Roe dealt with abortion. Another 20% didn’t know, period, and 7% thought Roe was about school desegregation!)
Third, respondents were asked “what comes closest to your view on abortion” but offered categories guaranteed not to capture the public’s real views and to lessen the pro-life response.
For example, 35% agreed with the statement that “abortion should be made illegal except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life.” Another 9% said abortion “should be made illegal without any exceptions.” That’s a total of 44%.
Couple of things. By including the phrase “made illegal” it was sure to reduce the number who agree. It’s just human nature. A less loaded question would have received a larger number.
Moreover, as we wrote about last week, a poll conducted for the Knights of Columbus found that 83% of Americans favor significant limitations on what is now essentially abortion on demand–up 4 points from last year.
A total of 56% of respondents believe either that abortion should never be permitted (10%), allowed only to save the life of the mother (12%), or only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother (34%).
At the same time we get bogus polls telling us how pro-life sentiment is dipping, there’s been an avalanche of stories about pro-life initiatives in the states, news of a fractured pro-abortion community fighting over how to label itself, and accounts of thousands of pro-lifers gathering across the country commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe.
Just might be that the pro-abortionists are on to something. In the face on a growing pro-life Movement, they need to retool their image.
If you like, join those who are following me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/daveha. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.