NPR and Thomson Reuters took a poll recently that “showed” that a majority believes abortion is morally wrong (59%), and that a majority (54%) believes abortion restrictions should either stay the same as they are or be eased. Keep in mind that the questions asked didn’t specify the type of abortion, timing of the abortion, or the reason for the abortion. All three of these are factors that I’ve found in my conversations with people radically alter how they respond to whether they think abortion should be legal/illegal or whether they think it’s right/wrong. A more helpful poll would only ask about morality and legality with reference to these specifics.
The question about restrictions was similarly murky. It only asked people if they believe the law should stay the same or be changed, but it didn’t ask people to explain anything about what their understanding of current abortion law is. I’ve found in my conversations that most people (at least on college campuses) are ignorant of the fact that abortion is legal through all nine months. (This has been recently challenged with fetal pain statutes in some states, so the status of abortion after 20 weeks is in flux.)
A more helpful poll would ask people when they think abortion is legal. Then, and only then, should we ask them if they think that state of affairs should continue, be stricter, or be more relaxed.
You can see for yourself the survey’s questions and responses here.
I continue to be skeptical about whether we can gain much useful data about what people actually believe about abortion from such broad questions. Sure, you can get a sense of how widespread general attitudes of positive or negative are, but you can’t conclude much more.
Here’s another NPR story about the poll.
Note: Keep in mind also that the majority referred to on both questions may not be the same people. It’s like a venn diagram. Some believe abortion is immoral and that it should be illegal. Some believe abortion is morally okay and should be legal, and some think abortion is immoral, but it should be legal. I think it’s safe to say that very few, if any, believe abortion is morally okay, but that it should be illegal.