A deeper dive into Gallup’s series on abortion opinion in 2018

By Dave Andrusko

As we discussed twice last month [here and here], as is its habit, Gallup is running a series about “Americans’ attitude toward abortion in 2018.” We have analyzed two of what is said to be a six-part series. Today we tackle a third.

The headline to Lydia Saad’s analysis is “Trimesters Still Key to U.S. Abortion Views.” As she notes early and often, this is not a new finding. The public is much more tolerant of abortion in the first trimester than in the second or third.

What Gallup is doing in this post is asking respondents about six different motivations for abortion and then seeing the level of support in the first trimester versus the third. (In this post, Gallup skips asking about the second trimester.)

The first five are all the most difficult cases, the sixth is the one that receives the least support.

  • when the woman’s life is endangered
  • when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest
  • when the child would be born with a life-threatening illness
  • when the child would be born mentally disabled
  • when the child would be born with Down syndrome
  • when the woman does not want the child for any reason

This is a long, complicated piece and I’ll offer just four additional observations.

#1. Saad writes, “The most widely accepted reason for performing abortions, with little difference in support depending on the timing, is when the woman’s life is endangered: 83% think this should be legal in the first trimester and 75% in the third. Majorities also think abortion should be legal in both trimesters if done because the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, although support falls from 77% in the first trimester to barely half (52%) in the third.”

All of this is consistent with previous Gallup findings. That 52% believes abortion should be legal even in the third trimester in cases of rape and incest illustrates why pro-abortionists always, always, always want the conversation to focus on these rare but (quite understandably) emotionally powerful examples.

#2. We can hope we are making progress on persuading the public to take a second (and third and fourth) look when a baby is prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Saad explains, “Americans are divided about terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester when Down syndrome is detected, with 49% in favor; but support drops to 29% for abortions done for this reason in the third trimester.” We do not want to become another Iceland or Denmark. In Iceland, where prenatal testing is widespread, “we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society,” one geneticist told CBS News last year. In Denmark, where all pregnant women have been offered screening scans since 2004, the disorder is heading for “extinction.”

#3. Saad mentions in passing

As Gallup reported earlier this week, the vast majority of Americans want abortion to be legally available in all or certain circumstances, even while, in answer to a separate question, they are evenly divided at 48% each in identifying their overall position as “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”

As we explained, the first half of that statement is wildly misleading. In the June 11 story written by Jeffrey M. Jones we were told

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.]

It would be much more fair and accurate to say that a majority–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 the tie (48% to 48%) in self-identification? Jones wrote

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. We hope and pray that a further debate over aborting children capable of experiencing pain as they are torn apart will also help change the calculus. The law does teach, and so does debate leading up to passage of a law.

#4. Finally, Saad writes

Less than half of Americans support abortions conducted in the first or the third trimester when the woman doesn’t want the child “for any reason,” although there is a sizable falloff in support for this from the first trimester (45%) to the third (20%).

To bring this full circle, people can identify more clearly with the baby the more developed she is. The baby seems more like a “baby,” even though (a) she is the same baby and (b) barring lethal outside intervention, in almost all cases she will breathe air after 9 months.

I’ll be talking about how to help people this simple but fundamental truth in a post later today. For now, if you get a chance, please read our first two stories about the Gallup series here and here.