The Washington Post recently published a fact check column about public attitudes toward abortion. Since the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, a number of public opinion firms have released polls on sanctity of life issues. Supporters of legal abortion have frequently used these surveys to argue that Roe v. Wade enjoys substantial public support and should be considered settled. In particular, NARAL, through their press releases and social media outlets, frequently argues that seven in 10 Americans support the Roe v. Wade decision.
The Washington Post’s analysis does contain some good information about public sentiment toward abortion. It acknowledges that responses to survey questions about abortion are sensitive to the way the questions are worded. It looks at additional polling which purportedly finds that only 54 to 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.” Furthermore, the Post acknowledges that support for abortion can fluctuate dramatically depending on the gestational age of the unborn child and the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy.
However, The Washington Post fails to explain why the current polling about Roe v. Wade is fundamentally flawed. As I have previously pointed out, only about 60 percent of Americans know that Roe v. Wade even deals with the issue of abortion. Furthermore, even among those who are aware that Roe v. Wade involves sanctity of life issues – many misunderstand the implications of the decision. Some wrongly feel a reversal of Roe would make abortion illegal everywhere – in reality it would return the abortion policy to the states. Finally, Roe v. Wade makes it difficult to enact many incremental pro-life laws, such as late term abortion bans, which enjoy broad public support.
More importantly, the current polling on Roe v. Wade completely overlooks public attitudes about how abortion policy should be decided. The Susan B. Anthony List recently commissioned the Tarrance Group to conduct a series of polls on this very issue. These surveys found that majorities of voters in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia would rather have abortion policy decided by their own elected officials, instead of the U.S. Supreme Court. Overall, there are aspects of the Roe v. Wade decision that are very unpopular. Additionally, many are comfortable giving their local elected officials the ability to enact legislation that would protect the preborn. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.
Michael New is a visiting assistant professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New