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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Public and Abortion Rights

Yesterday, perhaps one million people marched in Washington to defend abortion rights. The headline about the demonstration in The New York Times was “Abortion-Rights Marchers Vow to Fight Another Bush Term”.
Is that really likely to hurt Bush? Or has a backlash developed against abortion rights as abortion rights opponents successfully agitate for incremental restrictions on those rights?
The latter was the flavor of a Sunday article in The New York Times, “Abortion’s Opponents Claim the Middle Ground“. And it is true that abortion rights opponents have been concentrating on chipping away at these rights with various restrictions like parental notification and banning so-called partial birth abortions. But it’s also true that they’ve adopted that strategy because they have to. What those groups really want to do is ban abortions–in other words, get rid of Roe v. Wade. But they’ve realized they can’t do that. Hence the chipping away approach.
And the reason they’ve realized they can’t do that–get rid of abortion rights entirely–is very simple. The public doesn’t want it.
A recent report by Gallup provides some illustrative data. A plurality of the country (48-45) considers itself pro-choice, rather than pro-life. That includes a 54-39 majority among 18-29 year old women. In addition. 60 percent of the public either believes abortion laws should remain as they are (40 percent) or be made less strict (20 percent). And while just 17 percent want to make abortion illegal in all circumstances, 50 percent believe Bush holds that view.
In earlier Gallup results, Americans view Roe v. Wade as a good, rather than bad, thing for the country by a 23 point margin (53 percent to 30 percent). Gallup data also show that the public believes abortion should generally be legal during the first three months of pregnancy — the subject of the Roe v. Wade decision — by a wide margin (66 percent to 29 percent). Only 17 percent are for banning abortion, as mentioned above, while 26 percent believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances. The rest believe abortion should be legal under most circumstances (14 percent) or only in a few circumstances (40 percent).
An NBC poll gauged support for abortion rights in a different manner and found 59 percent saying that the choice on abortion should be left up to the woman and her doctor and 29 percent saying abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life. Just 9 percent said it should be illegal in all circumstances.
ABC and Time/CNN polls asked directly about support for the Roe v. Wade decision and found 54 percent to 44 percent and 55 percent to 40 percent support, respectively. In addition, the NBC poll asked whether the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade and found strong opposition to this course (58 percent opposed to 35 percent in favor).
Polls generally find that support for abortion rights, however measured, has remained very steady since 1995. Looking before 1995, some polls suggest that today’s levels of pro-choice sentiment are somewhat less those in the 1990-95 time period. But other polls tell a different story. The ABC poll, for example, finds direct support for Roe v. Wade to be less now than in 1993, when it was measured at 65 percent to 33 percent. On the other hand, the NBC poll finds a slight increase in opposition to reversing Roe v. Wade over about the same period. They asked the same question in 1992 (though among registered voters) and found 56 percent opposed to reversal and 38 percent in favor.
The Gallup poll question above on circumstances when abortion should be legal (all, most, a few or none at all) also finds evidence of some diminution in support for abortion rights since a peak in the 1990-95 time period. But the NBC question on whether abortion should be left up to the women and her doctor shows very little change over the same period.
Regardless, however, of how much change there’s been since the early 1990s, all of these polls agree there has been very little change since the mid-1990s. They tell us we remain a country that is generally pleased with the legacy of Roe v. Wade and does not wish to reverse it. And it suggests Bush really had better watch his step where abortion rights are concerned.

17 comments on “The Public and Abortion Rights

  1. megapotamus on

    Peter, just in the interests of full disclosure, I am one of those Nazi’s to which you refer. Regards.

  2. Don P on

    “Yes I know I said I would sit down and shut up and heaven forbid you are forced to acknowledge the existence of pro-life Democrats,”
    Yes, you exist. There aren’t many of you. You’re weird. You’re wrong. But yes, you do exist! I acknowledge it.
    “I don’t really care what political party a woman who has an abortion is, it is wrong and it is tragic.”
    No it isn’t.
    “But let’s face it the abortion industry targets minority and low income women.”
    No, that isn’t true, either. Minority and low income women may have abortions at a higher rate than majority and middle-class women, but there are rather obvious socioeconomic reasons for that.

  3. CaseyDemocrat on

    Yes I know I said I would sit down and shut up and heaven forbid you are forced to acknowledge the existence of pro-life Democrats, but if I could be allowed to clarify. My point was not that ONLY Democrats have abortions, I don’t really care what political party a woman who has an abortion is, it is wrong and it is tragic. But let’s face it the abortion industry targets minority and low income women. Minority women constitute only about 26% of the female population (age 15-44) in the United States, but they underwent approximatly 36% of the abortions. (Morbidity and mortality Weekly Report, U.S. Censuc Bureau, December 18, 1992, Centers for Disease Control). It doesn’t take much to figure out that minorities are more inclined to vote Democrat. I think they would have at least provided 537 more votes in Florida in 2000. I’ll go sit in the corner now so you can ignore our existence.

  4. Peter on

    mega, I am pro-life (but not so stringently that I will vote for those who the Nazis who have taken over the GOP), so my feelings here are quite different than yours. But the idea that only Democratic women get abortions, or that there would be a Democratic majority if not for abortions, is ridiculous and deserved to be slighted for the farce it is.

  5. megapotamus on

    I see CaseyDemocrat well anticipated the reactions of that post.
    >I see that you have never met a Republican woman who preaches life in public and then kills a baby an “accident” in private.
    Lucky you.
    Well Peter, if she “kills a baby” isn’t that what this whole hoo ha is about? This is also an apt counter to eric above. The issue is not SOLELY the rights of an adult competent woman but also those (if any) of the mute and helpless infant. I’m no fundy or even Lifer but we have to consider fairly, please, the countervailing arguments including those on moral grounds.

  6. Maxcat on

    No to Gay Marriage, no to Abortion rights, no to healthy environmental issues, no to Enemy Combatants rights, no to the re-count, no to any idea that’s not theirs, etc. etc. etc.
    It’s out turn in November,
    No to schrub, no to dick, no to rover, no to wolf, no no no to all of them.
    Yes to Mr. Kerry.
    So many no’s but only one real yes.

  7. Marcus Lindroos on

    > One of the unfortunate legacies of Roe v Wade is
    > that it has prompted the far right to become
    > much more policially organized and mobilized
    > than they ever were before.
    Was Roe vs. Wade (and the federally enforced civil rights campaign in the Deep South before that) a mistake, if the idea was to push America in a more progressive direction?

    This is somewhat off-topic, but I recently read a book review in the neoconservative WEEKLY STANDARD magazine (“O, My America”) which basically repeats the old Coulter/Limbaugh meme that American “national unity” is being threatened by woolly liberal multiculturalists and internationalists who, almost by definition, “hate their own country”.
    Now, I disagree strongly with most of what WS magazine says, _but_ are we finally moving towards a future where conservatives start pushing for a strong federal “national unity” government to push the Dixie South’s version of marriage, religious patriotism in school, abortion etc. down everybody’s throats…? Wouldn’t it be natural for progressives and liberals to promote themselves as states’ rights supporters in that case? Note that the GOP surge engineered by Nixon & Reagan had a strong anti-federal gov’t component on the grassroots level. I think this is becoming increasingly less important now, since they have “Shrub”, DeLay, Rehnquist, Ashcroft etc. running the show for them in Washington. They clearly do not object to big, bloated government as long as the money is being spent on their pet issues.

    Returning to my original question, I think progressive may have made a mistake when pushing for federally mandated solutions to certain issues in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s … Let’s face it: it is going to very difficult to implement a “Great Society” in a vast, diverse country such as the U.S. where a determined opposition can put up roadblocks in Congress. Maybe it would have been smarter to push for local solutions e.g. to the abortion problem, where each state is free to implement its own policy. Logically, taxpayers in San Francisco and Hicksville, Tennessee will not agree on a lot of things — so it seems a stronger emphasis on local government is the only solution.

    These are just my observations as an interested outsider (I’m Finnish). I understand there are some practical (constitutional/juridical?) problems that explain why controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage *must* be resolved at the federal rather than the local level, as is done here in Europe?

  8. Peter on

    CaseyDemocrat, I see that you have never met a Republican woman who preaches life in public and then kills a baby an “accident” in private.
    Lucky you.

  9. eric on

    Please don’t confuse supporting a woman’s right to control her body with supporting abortion. There are many who loath abortion but feel that the fundamental right of controling one’s own body is part and parcel with liberty. Educate and advocate but give me liberty or give me death.

  10. eric on

    Abortion rights law is really defined by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Although, the court claimed to rest on Stare Decisis the reality is that the court rolled back a significant portion of Roe. Anti-choicers are not trying to chip away, they are chipping away abortion rights.

  11. reignman on

    “That includes a 54-39 majority among 18-29 year old women. ”
    Sounds like this is a ways Kerry can get younger voters to vote for him–specifically, 18-29 year-old women. Considering that Bush HAS said that he looks forward to a day where there is NO abortion (his literal words were, of course: ‘i look forward to a day when we value all life the same, from the beginning of life.’ nudge nudge.), and Kerry can incorporate this into his campaign.
    he just toured some colleges, so i assume he did, or else he’s no more intelligent than our current president. As soon as the ridiculous rally affect (ex. capture of Saddam) is over, Kerry may have a net gain, considering that college students have caught up w/ young voters.

  12. CaseyDemocrat on

    Ironic that we really wouldn’t have to worry about a Democratic majority it would already be here, if we stopped aborting our constituency, namely poor and minority children at a disproportionate rate. But hey as a pro-life Democrat I don’t really exist, I’ll just sit down and shut up now.

  13. mark on

    Bush needs to be very careful indeed.
    “I’m not blaming the president, but religious conservatives have been doing politics for 25 years and, on every front, are worse off on things they care about,” said Gary Bauer, president of American Values. “The gay rights movement is more powerful, the culture is more decadent, the life of not one baby has been saved, porn is in the living room, and you can’t watch the Super Bowl without your hand on the off switch.”
    What if some of the people that Bauer is talking about decide to stay home next Nov?

  14. Paul C on

    One of the unfortunate legacies of Roe v Wade is that it has prompted the far right to become much more policially organized and mobilized than they ever were before. On the other hand, it has provided many upper middle class women with a false sense of security, and the cover to vote for right wing candidates. I live in an affluent suburb, and the mantra I heard from one woman after another was “oh, I don’t believe he would actually do that ” [appoint justices that would reverse Roe.] Then, because Dubya was a “compassionate conservative” who would cut their taxes, they voted for him (I guess I hang around with the some of the wrong people!)
    I believe that the reign of terror of the right will end soon, but if Roe were ever to be reversed, it would soon mean the complete destruction of the right wing as a viable political force. I just hope that we can wake up enough people before it has to come to that.

  15. Sara on

    The “Value Life” idea can and should be turned on its head, and I do believe many of the march sponsors are catching on to this. Universal access to Reproductive Medical Care based on principles of choice, and universal access to medical services for all children are articulations of the “values Life” mantra, and the failure to exhibit all that much concern for the “post-birth” child seems to be a hallmark of the Bush Administration. It’s time to turn the tables on this mantra.
    I was also glad to see so many signs this weekend that emphasized the “anti-woman” character of so many of the Bush pronouncements. The mod 00’s are not the same as the 1970’s in one very important respect — today American Women are far more incorporated into the cash economic system, and make critical choices all the time, whereas in the 70’s the role models for women as critical decision makers were pretty thin on the ground. The whole “choice” concept has to mature, and to incorporate the experience of women as significant and critical decision makers who can indeed be trusted to make good decisions. In essence is is a soft version of anti-patriaarchy, feminist emancipation that can now well appeal beyond Womens Studies classrooms and journals.

  16. Maxine on

    I agree that Bush had “better watch his step” in regard to abortion rights given the polls cited but, in fact, he has been treading carefully on the issue. While I have no doubt that he supports the Repupublican plank of outlawing abortion–period–he rarely or never uses the term “abortion.” Rather he talks about encouraging a culture which “values life”–code words which the religious right understands perfectly well but which also sound, on the face of it, unobjectionable to moderate swing voters.


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