Most Americans still oppose the reasons for which almost all abortions are performed

Also more people still consider abortion morally wrong than morally acceptable, Gallup reports

By Dave Andrusko

Twice in the last two weeks NRL News Today posted about an upcoming series of six stories that Gallup said it would be posting “documenting Americans’ latest views on abortion, including deep dives into gender and generational trends”[here and here].

Today’s initial Gallup story results are important but are more like a toe in the water than a head-first dive.

In summary form, the three big takeaways, according to Jeffrey M. Jones, are

  • 48% identify as pro-choice, 48% as pro-life
  • Half continue to say abortion should be legal in some circumstances
  • Slightly more say it is morally wrong than morally acceptable

Let’s dive deeper than Gallup does into its latest results of interviewing 1,024 adults “May 1-10 in Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll.”

First, the self-identification. Those numbers have jumped around, occasionally with there being more pro-life than pro-choicers but more often pro-choicers with a very slight lead. But what’s the real significance?

During the 1990s — when Gallup first asked the question — more Americans personally identified as pro-choice than as pro-life by 51% to 40%, on average.

That turnabout, as we have written, was primarily a product of the educational campaign that was part and parcel of the 13 year battle to ban partial-birth abortions. The law does teach, and so does debate leading up to passage of a law.

Second, “Half continue to say abortion should be legal in some circumstances.” Gallup’s own later summary puts it this way: “Most Do Not Favor Outright Ban, but Want Limits on Abortions.”

Fair enough but two paragraphs later we read

Historically, Americans have been most likely to favor the middle position — abortion being legal under certain circumstances. Rarely has the percentage saying abortion should sometimes be legal fallen below 50%, averaging 53% since it was first asked in 1975.

Is that an accurate rendition of its own results? Yes and no. A couple of paragraphs later Jones writes

Although close to eight in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances, further probing of their attitudes finds the public favoring more restrictive rather than less restrictive laws. In a follow-up question asked of those in the middle “legal under certain circumstances” group, most of these respondents say it should be legal “only in a few” rather than in “most” circumstances.

What does that “further probing “tell us?

The result is that 43% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all (29%) or most (14%) circumstances, while a majority of 53% say it should be legal in only a few (35%) or no circumstances (18%). [Underlining is mine.]

So the answer put more clearly is that a total of 53% say abortion should not be legal at all (18%) or legal “in only a few circumstances” (35%). Gallup doesn’t ask what those “few circumstances” might be but most likely they are cases of life of mother, rape and incest, and possibly what is typically called “fetal deformity.”

What about number three? “Slightly more say it is morally wrong [48%]than morally acceptable [43%].” We wrote about that extensively last week. Let me make two quick notations here.

First, to quote Jones, “Though attitudes have fluctuated, at no point have more Americans said abortion is morally acceptable than have said it is morally wrong.”

Second, as we wrote last week, “if you compared the results with the way Pew asks the question—which asks not about abortion in the abstract but whether having an abortion is morally wrong or morally acceptable–the margin is not 5 points but 25.”