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Posted May 22, 2009

Polls find more Americans call
themselves 'pro-life' than 'pro-choice'

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Several recent polls show how "out of sync" current U.S. abortion policy is with the views of most Americans, according to the U.S. bishops' pro-life spokeswoman.

Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications at the bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, was commenting May 18 on the release of four opinion polls showing that Americans are taking a dramatic turn toward greater opposition to abortion.

A poll conducted May 7-10 as part of the annual Gallup Values and Beliefs survey found that a majority of Americans (51 percent) described themselves as "pro-life" with respect to the abortion issue, while only 42 percent said they were "pro-choice." The results were made public May 15.

It marked the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995 that more respondents said they were pro-life than pro-choice, and was a shift of 7-8 percentage points from a year earlier, when 50 percent said they were pro-choice and 44 percent said they were pro-life.

A separate Gallup Poll Daily survey conducted May 12-13 found that 50 percent of Americans described themselves as pro-life and 43 percent as pro-choice.

"We're very encouraged, but not surprised, that Americans are trending pro-life," McQuade told Catholic News Service. "The more aware the public becomes about the tragic choice of abortion and its repercussions, the less we want it sanctioned in law."

The Gallup results were similar to another national survey made public April 30 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which found that the number of Americans who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases had declined to 46 percent in April 2009 from 54 percent in August 2008.

Forty-four percent of respondents in the Pew poll said abortion should be illegal in most (28 percent) or all cases (16 percent), up from 41 percent in August 2008.

The margin of error for each of the three polls was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Quinnipiac University, a private, nonsectarian school in Hamden, Conn., found a smaller shift and a continued majority favoring keeping abortion legal in survey results reported May 14. It said 52 percent of Americans said abortion should be legal in all (15 percent) or most (37 percent) cases, down from 57 percent in July 2008. Forty-one percent of the respondents said abortion should be illegal in most (27 percent) or all (14 percent), compared to 39 percent last year.

The margin of error for the Quinnipiac survey was plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

McQuade attributed the pro-life shift to greater public awareness about abortion and public policy, especially because of "the debate and action around the Freedom of Choice Act" and the recent campaign to keep conscience protections in place for health care workers who oppose abortion.

She said more than 34 million postcards were ordered during the bishops' campaign against the introduction of FOCA or any similar legislation in Congress, and at least 73,000 e-mails have been sent through the bishops' Web site urging conscience protections.

A legal analysis of the most recent version of FOCA by the general counsel's staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has warned that it would wipe out many existing state laws and impede states' ability to regulate abortion. So far, FOCA has not been introduced in the current Congress.

McQuade said the trend toward more pro-life attitudes "started in the early '90s during the public debates on partial-birth abortion."

"Support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal for all nine months of pregnancy for any reason, peaked in 1991 and has been falling ever since," she added.

The Gallup Values and Beliefs survey found the strongest pro-life views among those who said they were Republican or independents leaning toward the Republican Party, those who described themselves as conservative and those who said they were Christians.

Fifty-two percent of the Catholic respondents and 59 percent of Protestants or members of other Christian religions described themselves as pro-life in the 2009 poll, compared to 45 percent of Catholics and 51 percent of Protestants in May 2008.

Seventy percent of Republicans or those leaning Republican said they were pro-life, compared to 60 percent in 2008; the percentage who said they were pro-choice in that group dropped from 36 percent in 2008 to 26 percent this year.

Among Democrats and independents who leaned toward the Democratic Party, the position on abortion remained virtually unchanged, with 61 percent saying they were pro-choice and 33 percent pro-life in 2009, compared to 60 percent pro-choice and 33 percent pro-life last year.

Gallup said these results might be related to the election of President Barack Obama, who is a strong supporter of keeping abortion legal. Some groups that promote abortion have said his November 2008 election was a mandate to expand access to and federal funding of abortion.

"With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation's policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans -- and, in particular, Republicans -- seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position," said a Gallup commentary on the results.

"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," it added. "While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction."

When Gallup first began conducting the Values and Beliefs survey in 1995, 56 percent of Americans described themselves as pro-choice and only 33 percent said they were pro-life. Since then, the highest percentage to identify themselves as pro-life was 46 percent, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

In surveys conducted by Pew Research, support for keeping abortion legal in all or most cases ranged in 2008 from 57 percent in mid-October to 53 percent in late October but dropped to 46 percent in April 2009.