Commentary Magazine


On Abortion, It’s Liberals vs. Public Opinion

If pro-abortion activist Wendy Davis was seeking to move the polls on public attitudes toward abortion and her own political fortunes, she seems to have succeeded–though surely not in the direction she intended. After Davis’s media blitz, Texas voters still made clear they’d vote against her for governor. And now the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms what has been the case all along: Davis and the Democrats hold extremist views on abortion.

The Post reports: “By a margin of 56 to 27 percent, more Americans say they’d prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than the 24-week mark established under current law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.” That 20-week mark was the subject of the restrictive abortion bill that Davis worked so hard to stop in Texas–though the Texas bill also sought to upgrade health facilities for women, which Davis also strenuously opposed.

The media, which tends to be far more pro-abortion than the rest of the country, has tried to cloak that extremism with spin. In the case of Davis’s poll numbers, they were forced to argue that “Wendy Davis won’t be the next governor but could help Democrats win the larger political war.” In the writeup of the new abortion poll, the Post adds:

More broadly, overall support for legal abortion remains stable, with 55 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. That finding is similar to a 2012 Post-ABC poll and surveys in recent years.

Pro-abortion activists may see that as a silver lining, but it’s not much out of step with the rest of the poll. Most abortions take place before the 20-week mark, which means a bill restricting abortion after that point would still mean abortion in most cases would be left in place. An additional ten percent of respondents didn’t think the 20-week restrictions would go far enough, making the Wendy Davis Democrats true outliers in public opinion.

The real silver lining for the left, if there is one, would be this part of the poll:

By more than a 2 to 1 margin — 66 to 30 percent — Americans say they prefer that abortion laws be decided for all states on the basis of the U.S. Constitution, rather than a state-by-state approach. This applies to both hardcore abortion rights supporters and opponents: 73 percent of those who say abortion should always be legal want a national rule, as do 72 percent of those who say it should be illegal in all cases.

A majority of Americans want a national abortion standard subject to Supreme Court approval of its constitutionality. This is where the left has some success. When American voters disapprove of liberal culture-war stands, the courts can often be counted on to legislate from the bench, especially when pressured by the administration and the media to get in line. The high court has already established precedent inventing a right to abort children in the Constitution, so getting national law to conform with popular opinion would be an uphill slog.

The other interesting aspect of the poll is the support for abortion, or opposition to the abortion facility regulations, that didn’t come from the self-identified liberal end of the spectrum:

Meanwhile a Columbus, Ohio, resident who asked that he only be identified by his first name, Robert, and described himself as “a conservative Republican” who backs abortion rights, said he did not understand why politicians were seeking to rewrite the nation’s abortion laws.

“I would really prefer that government focus on fiscal issues, and stay out of the social issues,” he said.

And Milo Shield, a professor at Augsburg College who lives in Prescott, Wis., said he also supports abortion access without restrictions until the 24th week of pregnancy. He questioned Wisconsin’s new law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors, which Planned Parenthood said could shutter two of its four clinics in the state.

“There doesn’t seem to be data about whether it makes a difference to have a doctor present or hospital admitting privileges,” said Shield, who considers himself a libertarian and does not affiliate with either party. “I don’t know what Wisconsin’s rationale was. It’s like creationism — it’s shrouded in science, but not science-based.”

The second commenter here identifies as a libertarian, and the earlier comment was from a “conservative Republican” who expressed a fairly libertarian attitude by telling the government to focus on fiscal issues “and stay out of the social issues.” The libertarian approval of unrestricted abortion is something I find baffling. The science is pretty clear: the unborn child is the same human person before and after birth. Any policy approach that gives some people less value and fewer rights than others doesn’t strike me as particularly “libertarian.”

But it does get at a point encountered often in political discussions: people just aren’t that comfortable talking about abortion, at least to the extent they are usually comfortable talking about, say, taxes. The media plays a role in this, casting opposition to abortion as part of a “war on women,” a shameful smear that is simply not supported by the polling but which is intended to foreclose debate precisely because Americans side with conservatives on this issue more than Democrats, and certainly more than abortion absolutists on the left.

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