78% of Americans think abortion should be legal

TIME says that the May Gallup poll reporting that the majority of Americans are pro-life was a fluke. The latest poll is in, and the “pro-life” majority has disappeared.

The percentages of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are essentially the same (47% for pro-life; 46% for pro-choice). Meanwhile, the positions they hold–a more useful indicator than the labels people choose for themselves–haven’t budged. A solid 78% think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.

Reporter Amy Sullivan also notes that one of the more interesting aspects of the poll is that about 60% of people who describe themselves as “pro-life” think abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances.

Anti-abortion activists would say they’re not really pro-life, just like they insist that politicians like Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) who support the use of contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies should not be described as pro-life. But clearly many Americans are comfortable thinking of themselves as “pro-life” and at the same time holding the belief that abortion should be legal. Now that’s a story.

Via RH Reality Check.

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  1. englishteacher
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have anything but anecdotal evidence to back this up, but I think that how people identify themselves as pro-choice or pro-life can reflect how they themselves would face that decision, rather than how they would have others face it. I’ve known a lot of people say that they don’t want abortion to be illegal, but refer to themselves as pro-life because they would never have one.

  2. alixana
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I read these things, a scene from the West Wing comes to mind. I’m a little fuzzy on the details since it’s been awhile, but to the best of my recollection, in one episode, Bartlett had some poll guy chasing after him saying that X% of the country was against flag burning, and that Bartlett needed to come out strongly against flag burning in order to secure his re-election. Towards the end of the episode, Marlee Matlin’s character, another pollster, said, “He’s not asking the right questions. Ask me how many people think the flag burning issue is really important to them.” And the number was tiny.

  3. susanstohelit
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    This is the position my mom takes – she was just telling me yesterday that while she wouldn’t have had an abortion herself, she knew a woman who had one because the child was at risk of being severely disabled and, because she was the sole supporter of her younger siblings, knew she couldn’t give this child a good life. So…I think that for a lot of people, even if they can’t imagine having an abortion themselves, they have sympathy for women who find themselves in this situation and want it to be an option for them. (Which is also President Bartlett’s position, to make another West Wing reference – Leo talks about it in the first episode, I think, that while Bartlett doesn’t personally advocate abortion he doesn’t think the government should be involved.) People ARE capable of having complex, nuanced responses to this issue.

  4. Jen R
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I’d venture to say that most pro-choice activists would not consider people who think abortion should be legal in only some circumstances (such as rape, threat to the mother’s health, etc.) are pro-choice, either. So what does this poll really tell us? That most people do not take a position in which the interests of either women or fetuses are always paramount. This is pretty much the same thing abortion polls have told us for thirty years.

  5. Mighty Ponygirl
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Well, because the “it should be legal in some circumstances” is actually a good place to challenge their beliefs. Why only in some circumstances? You can intellectually argue someone into a pretty solid pro-choice position from the mushy middle if you just challenge them on stuff like that.

  6. Lily A
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Right — I know a lot of people who are pro-life “morally” (they think all abortion or most abortion is morally wrong) but are at least somewhat pro-choice from a policy perspective (they don’t want the government messing with another woman’s moral choice, or they think it should be legal in some circumstances even if they themselves would never have an abortion, etc).

  7. theology_nerd
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    This doesn’t surprise me…very few people are on either extreme (“no contraception!” or “abortions all the time!”) on this particular issue. I personally would identify myself as pro-life, but I think that it’s better to keep it legal since banning it wouldn’t remove the need for it. I would only call it “ethical” in a few circumstances (mother’s life, fetal deformity, rape/incest). But my hope is that eventually comprehensive sex ed, support for single moms, and better access to birth control (and EC) will make it so that those are the only time it’s actually needed. And from the studies I’ve read, this is where the majority of Americans actually are, so it’s a shame that people like Rep. Ryan are getting shot down by extremists.

  8. Richard P
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I think what the poll tells us is that the binary, zero-sum way of looking at things that the pro-lifers have been trying to force us into really has little bearing on reality. As theology_nerd says, ‘very few people are on either extreme’.
    Polls like this help us break down this myth.

  9. Sabina
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    “78% think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances”
    Isn’t that saying that 22% think abortion should be illegal no matter what? (Sorry. I tend to view people in a rather pessimistic light…)

  10. Opheelia
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with Ponygirl that it gives you an ideological starting point, the stats showed that 42% thought it should only be legal under a few circumstances. From a public policy perspective, that’s terrifying. Imagine having to “prove” you’d been raped in order to obtain an abortion.

  11. anteup
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    The “I’m prolife because I could never have an abortion. As for other people, that’s their decision” mentality drives me friggin BATTY. I just want to shake them and yell “THAT MEANS YOU ARE PROCHOICE!”

  12. aleks
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I think that abortion is wrong, and if it could be prevented by law I would support that. However, I don’t think criminalizing abortion would succeed in preventing it, because rich women could have it done someplace legal, and poor women would girls who couldn’t travel would have it done illegally and unsafely. So in this fallen world, Bill Clinton’s “Legal, Safe and Rare” formulation seems to be the best we can aim for.

  13. Siby
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    “But my hope is that eventually comprehensive sex ed, support for single moms, and better access to birth control (and EC) will make it so that those are the only time it’s actually needed.”
    If only the world could ever be that perfect. There are probably just as many different reasons for abortion as there are women who have them. It’s up to the woman alone to decide what is “ethical”.

  14. theology_nerd
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    (This is a little off-topic, but I feel it has to be said.)
    I’m no supporter of the “black-and-white, one universal morality” worldview that some espouse, but I think you have to be very cautious when saying something “It’s up to the woman alone to decide what is ‘ethical’”. What if a poor woman decides that killing her toddler is more ethical than letting him starve? What if a president decides that it’s more ethical to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis than to use diplomacy and non-violent solutions? Perhaps that individual could come up with a rational for what is ethical and what isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it actually is. Morality is subjective, but to say that every individual has their own, equally-valid morality is to wander into some potentially dangerous territory.

  15. JoanOfArc
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    This is so true. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to walk people through the logic.
    “You don’t think you would ever have an abortion?”
    “But you think others should be able to decide for themselves?”
    “That makes you pro-choice.”
    “But I would never have an abortion.”
    “But you wouldn’t dictate what choice others make?”
    “Of course not!”
    “Then you are pro-choice.”

  16. Siby
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    We’re not talking about killing toddlers or bombing countries. We’re talking about abortion, and abortion is just as valid of an option as adoption and parenting. Saying that it is not “ethical” is just an attempt to shame women who have abortions. Really, who are you to tell them what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to their own bodies? If you think abortion is unethical, that’s fine, don’t have one. However, your morals should never be forced upon other peoples’ bodies, even if you think that their reasons for abortion are stupid.

  17. rebekah
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I agree completely. I would never have an abortion, and I don’t like the fact that we have to have them available. But we do. And just because abortion would never be the right decision for me, doesn’t mean that it would never be right for another woman. That is her body, and therefore her choice. I had to take my best friend to have an abortion because her ex-boyfriend (and the one who impregnated her)threatened that if she didn’t have one then he was going to kill her. She tried to get a restraining order against him which failed, she tried to get the police to do something because he was threatening her and they would do nothing about it without a restraining order. She has no family other than her mom, who is who she lives with and neither one of them make enough to get her to another state where he couldn’t find her. She had to choose between her life and the babies. These instances are the reasons why I understand the need to have safe legal abortions available to women. I am prochoice even though I would never have an abortion. Its about the fact that every woman leads a diferent life and that is going to make her need to make different decisions.

  18. Marj
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Or as my husband puts it, ‘pro-choice, anti-abortion’.

  19. Gopher
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    “So in this fallen world,”
    ((eye roll))

  20. Gopher
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    “But my hope is that eventually comprehensive sex ed, support for single moms, and better access to birth control (and EC) will make it so that those are the only time it’s actually needed.”
    Other than incest, rape or deformity then she’s an evil person, right? Its not like she has a life or anything and its not like pregnancy is a huge choice with a life changing aspect to it. Its just like fast food! Her own life and who holds the paternity and her own ‘choice’ shouldnt have any effect on it.

  21. Gopher
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    “What if a poor woman decides that killing her toddler is more ethical than letting him starve? What if a president decides that it’s more ethical to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis than to use diplomacy and non-violent solutions? ”
    Gimme a break. These are all exaggerative extremes that hold no relation to abortion.The only way that you could come up with such a knee jerk analogy is if you think abortion is murder.

  22. Gopher
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Whys a guy have a decision on abortion? Its not like he’s ever going to have to get one.

  23. Gopher
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    “even though I would never have an abortion. ”
    You never truly know until you get pregnant.

  24. BackOfBusEleven
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Exactly. And I can’t think of a reason to give your child up for adoption that isn’t also a valid reason to have an abortion. For some reason, “I’m not ready to be a parent” is a great reason to put your child up for adoption, but it’s out of convenience if you have an abortion for the same reason. And convenience is bad for some reason.

  25. BackOfBusEleven
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m never going to get a vasectomy either. I’m still of the opinion that men should have the right to one.

  26. Hypatia
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    And thats why its called “pro-choice” not “pro-abortion” or “anti-life”. It makes complete sense, but for some reason the term has become misunderstood and misrepresented.

  27. aleks
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, you’ve eviscerated me with your logical and cutting response. I surrender.

  28. aleks
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    The same reason women got to have opinions on drafts.

  29. aleks
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Throw out people who believe in parent consent laws, waiting periods, and bans on govt funding for abortions and the number who’d still qualify as Pro-Choice gets a lot smaller.

  30. rebekah
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    First I can’t get pregnant. And yes that is a sensitive topic for me. Second, if I was to become pregnant (which is completely impossible I have no uterus or ovaries) I would not have an abortion. I know myself well enough to know that I could never handle that emotionally. We all have the right to make our own decisions, not to have one thrust upon us by people who in their zeal to protect a woman’s right to choose, only seem to protect that as long as that choice is abortion. That’s not choice to me, its just plain flat out proabortion. Which I do not support because I know that that will never be the right choice 100% of the time with 100% of women.

  31. aleks
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    That’s because you’re viewing abortion as a morally neutral act, which makes perfect sense if you don’t consider the fetus to be an individual distinct from the mother. Why shouldn’t the mother be able to do whatever she wants with her body, for whatever reason she deems fit?
    It’s much more complicated for people who view the fetus as a distinct person or demi-person that needs to be considered independent of the mother.

  32. katicabogar
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    i am so much awaiting that time, when ALL men will take responsibility and consequences for their sexual actions, and contraceptives will have 100% pearl-index, so NO WOMEN have to go on abortions anymore, never, ever if they do not want to get pregnant…
    but until then, abortions shall be kept safe, legal, available, and for free.
    in hungary, abortion is available until 12 weeks, only in case if the baby is sick, if mother’s life or health is endangered, or in case of rape/incest. there is the possibility of mother’s social or financial circumstances, which cannot be questioned. however, this still means, that there is no free abortions in hungary. if you are under 18, parents consent is needed. if you are married, the fathers consent is needed. however, you can lie, of course. 2 visits are prior abortion, when you have to go through the adoption thing…
    and we do not have abortion pills. only the harsher, mechanical version, that may injure you for a lifetime, if you get into the hands of a mysogynist doctor…
    i have read through the constitutional judges opinions. all men, of course. never ever have they mentioned the man, never ever have they mentioned the woman, they have only referred to the pregnant woman, as “mother”, who has ethical responsibility to give birth and take care to the foetus!!! as if no men have any kind of responsibility in the consequences of their sexual lives other than impregnating the woman!!! unbelievably arrogant, and malechauvinist!!! and these men are controlling our lives and basic human rights!
    and still, we have better situation, than columbia, el salvador, malta, chile…

  33. Marj
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    No, but he has two sisters and a wife who could possibly find themselves in the position of wanting/needing an abortion, and he would prefer that we didn’t.

  34. Gopher
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Fallen world is hardly the words of a person that uses logic and level headedness.

  35. Gopher
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, but am I anti-vasectomy, pro birth control? It seems weird that he’s against abortion when he’ll never have one. Its like why would I be anti-vasectomy if I dont have a penis? It seems redundant because if my BF wanted to get a vasectomy shouldnt I support him anyways?

  36. Gopher
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Thats not a good analogy. Both a mother and a father share a son and if in the future draft revisions allow, a daughter. Why shouldnt they have a say on drafts? A womans body is her own and until youre in her situation you cant determine for her what she will or wont do with her own body.

  37. Gopher
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Right, but what right does he have to determine that? A guy should be supportive, not hypothetical. Until he’s the one thats pregnant he should learn to support the womans decision. Alot of men who are anti-choice give women heck for choosing a decision that they dont like. Thats the least of things she needs in that rock and a hard place type of situation.

  38. Gopher
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “if you are married, the fathers consent is needed. ”
    Wow. Thats fucked up, infantalizing and paternalistic. Are women trying to change that?

  39. Siby
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, I don’t see what’s so bad about being “pro-abortion”. I’m just as pro-abortion as I am pro-parenting, pro-adoption, pro-breastfeeding, pro-childfree, etc. To me, it just means that I support abortion just as much as I support any other of those choices. Abortion should not be a naughty word, IMO.
    And yeah, I hear you when you say that you’ll never have an abortion. In a way, I kind of agree with the person that says that you’ll never know for sure, but I’m not going to doubt you because I find that sort of condescending. I’ve known anti-choice women who have had abortions, so I understand what that other person was saying. However, I hate it when people tell me that I can “never be sure” about being child-free, so I’m not going to doubt you, either. No one knows you better than yourself.

  40. aleks
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    That’s your basis for complaint? That I used a common two-word religiously derived metaphor (from a religion that isn’t mine) for living in an imperfect world and needing to make the best of it? Is there something illogical or un-level about my analysis, or are you just going to claim victory in whatever your problem is because I called this a fallen world? You’ve certainly proven one of us incapable of logic, I congratulate you on that victory.

  41. rebekah
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    then you are not “proabortion” or anything else except prochoice. The way I interpret these words is that if you are putting anything else above another than you are that thing. But if you find all options equal, meaning that a woman has just as much right but no more to an abortion as to have her child and keep it or to have her child and put it up for adoption ect. than you are prochoice. I think maybe as a whole we need to define what we mean. I find people who are proabortion (based on what my definition of that is nodoby else’s) are just as oppressive to women as antichoice advocates because it means that we still cannot decide what is best for us and we need strong intelligent men to tell us weak hysterical emotionally charged women what to do with our bodies. Nobody knows the situation that I am in better than I do, and therefore, they do not get to tell me what it is I should do.

  42. Siby
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I agree with you. We just interpret the phrase “pro-abortion” differently.

  43. aleks
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I see, Gopher’s operating off a simplified version of the Sarah Palin debate chart.
    Do you have a problem with your opponent’s conclusion? => no => Are you able to identify a flaw in your opponent’s logic? => no => Oh shit => Do you think you know what religion your opponent is? => Yes! => Can you act as if that assumed religious identity disqualifies him as a rational human being => Oh yes yes yes! => OMG You’re such a good debater!

  44. aleks
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    So women (and for that matter old men) aren’t eligible for the draft, but are entitled to have opinions on behalf of someone else they presume to speak for? Sounds like my analogy wasn’t so bad after all.

  45. aleks
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I studied in England in 2001 and a lot of Brits pretended Bartlett was the US president. I didn’t have the heart to argue it.

  46. Feather
    Posted August 17, 2009 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Yeah. The way a self-explanatory term like “pro-choice” can be so misunderstood, even by those who support abortion rights, just goes to show how influential the anti-abortion movement has been.

  47. katicabogar
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    most women do not even know their rights. most women in hungary will not go out on the streets to fight for their rights. we had 40 years of communism, and 20 years of corruptcy/false interpreted democracy, so those, who want to change the law, are too few to make a difference.
    and we have to pay for abortion. around 30 thousand forints, which is more than the half of the net minimum wage.

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