By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
There may be a new political center forming on the abortion issue. A new Gallup poll out today finds 51 percent of Americans now identify themselves as "pro-life" and 42 percent as "pro-choice." According to Gallup, this is the first time a majority of Americans have identified themselves as pro-life since the organization began asking this question in 1995. A year ago, it was almost the opposite: 50 percent called themselves "pro-choice," and 44 percent "pro-life." So the center has shifted just in the past year, since the pro-life President Bush left office.
Here's the interesting part politically:
Since 1975, Gallup has found that the majority of Americans say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. That majority has remained fairly steady since 1975 and is now at 53 percent. But the more extreme views on abortion are changing, just in the last year: the number of people who believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances—an unrestricted right to abortion—has dropped from 28 percent to 22 percent; and the number of people who want abortion to be illegal in all circumstances—a ban on all abortions—has risen from 17 percent to 23 percent.
When Gallup delved into that great middle ground of people who want abortion to be legal only under certain circumstances, it found that the majority of those folks want abortion really to be legal "only in a few circumstances." I've been saying for years that we need a name for this third group, since the pro-choice and pro-life camps have come to occupy the extremes, while a silent majority sits in the middle. These are the people who don't want to go back to the days of back alleys and coat hangers, but who also find abortion morally repugnant. They don't want it to be any easier to get an abortion than it already is. In fact, they want it to be harder.
This is not a fluke. Gallup found this pro-life shift in two other recent polls it conducted. Similarly, a Pew Research Center poll reports the same thing: the percentage of people who want abortion to be legal in all or most cases is no longer a majority. And all since last August.
When you take the Gallup numbers, and add the number of people who want abortion to be legal only in certain circumstances—and most of them say only in a few circumstances—and the people who don't want it to be legal at all, you have 76 percent of Americans. So that looks to me like a new consensus: most people want it to be more difficult to get an abortion. Not just a third trimester abortion. Any abortion.
Why are things shifting? The pollsters at Gallup report that political moderates and some conservatives are shifting to a more pro-life stance in reaction to President Obama's abortion agenda. They see him making changes to the policy on funding abortions overseas, publicly supporting the Freedom of Choice Act, and making moves to rescind federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to carry out abortions, and Gallup thinks this is a response to that. "It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public's understanding of what it means to be 'pro-choice' slightly to the left, politically," the pollsters write, and this new, more pro-life political center is forming in reaction to his activist pro-choice agenda. They don't like what they're seeing, and it worries them.
President Clinton once said that abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare." The problem is that President Obama and his supporters agree that abortion should be safe and legal, but they seem to be forgetting the "rare" part. That great unnamed majority in the middle—the new political center—says it's time to make abortion rare.
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