Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What do Americans mean when they say "pro-choice"?

While the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are clearly open for interpretation, I’ve had the impression that, generally, “pro-life” people think abortion should be illegal except in cases that threaten the mother’s life (and perhaps in cases of rape*) and “pro-choice” people generally think abortion should be legal throughout pregnancy.  My impressions are due partially to my countless conversations with passionate pro-choicers (who, yes, are sometimes pro-abortion) and due partially to the heated public debates that ensue with nearly every attempt at abortion restriction. 

The combination of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton effectively made abortion legal at any stage in pregnancy.  Most attempts to limit this liberal standard are met with strong resistance.  I’m not just talking about sweeping changes, like declaring personhood begins at conception.  Even more mild restrictions, such as parental notification requirements, are greatly contested.

It seems to me there are two possible reasons for this defense of some of the most permissive abortion standards in the world:

1)      The pro-choice movement genuinely believes abortion should be legal at any time for any reason.
2)      A fair amount of pro-choicers don’t realize exactly what standard they’re defending.

This Gallup poll suggests the latter.  While 46% of respondents described themselves as “pro-choice,” only 38% said abortion should be legal in “any” or “most” circumstances.  Additionally, of self-described pro-choicers:

  • 60% think minors should be required to get parental consent.
  • 60% think women should be required to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion.
  • 63% think partial-birth abortion should be illegal.
  • 52% think abortion should be illegal in the 2nd trimester.
  • 79% think abortion should be illegal in the 3rd trimester.
It’s also worth noting that only 90% of self-described pro-lifers think abortion should be illegal in the 2nd trimester.  Even so, if:

  • 90% of the 48% of Americans who describe themselves as “pro-life” (43.2%) and
  • 52% of the 46% who describe themselves as “pro-choice” (23.92%)
believe abortion should be illegal by the 2nd trimester, then 68% of Americans think abortion should be illegal after the 1st trimester.

The majority of Americans don’t agree with our current abortion law.  Why, then, has it been so difficult to unify and enact meaningful change?

*According to the same Gallup poll, 59% of self-described pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape.


Jameson Graber said...

"Why, then, has it been so difficult to unify and enact meaningful change?" Oh, the reasons go on and on--abortion has increasingly become a partisan issue, preventing any sort of political coalition; the activists on the pro-life side are far too often associated with extreme religious movements; the activists on the pro-choice side are often defending their own financial interests as institutions; the pro-choice side has really good rhetoric for defending the status quo (women's rights, choice, freedom, equality!); and so on. It's hard to build a coalition when both sides tend to obscure the facts for the sake of broader political agendas.

The Brooks Family said...

As a pro-choice woman my opinions are such: Most pro-choicers that I know do not think abortion should be legal after a certain stage of the pregnancy. As for the policy making (just speaking of the conservative side), abortion bills are usually written by/for or framed in such a way that makes them appear more as small steps towards making abortion completely illegal. They do not come across, despite what some policy makers say, as "for the benefit of the woman or society", but as part of a larger agenda by very religious conservative people. That makes average/everyday pro-choicers very nervous and so it is fought.

One other point that I think should be noted, MANY pro-choice advocates are anti-abortion but feel like that is their "choice" and that they have no right to take away that choice for others. My best friend is one of them. Mix that with many of us that are fine with abortion still thinking that they shouldn't be allowed after a certain point in the pregnancy and the Gallup Poll you mention makes sense.

I think we can all agree (on both sides) that taking steps to minimize abortion is ideal. But I think we should do it through good education and easy access to health care and contraception. Not policies that make normal, first term abortions difficult to receive. There will always be those ladies who's best option, because of health related issues, is an abortion, even if they desperately want that child.

M said...

"It's hard to build a coalition when both sides tend to obscure the facts for the sake of broader political agendas."


If the pro-life side was associated more with human rights and less with religion, I wonder how that would effect abortion "moderates" views on abortion restrictions.

M said...

I appreciate your insight! These are good points.

When I first read the above Gallup poll, I wondered what would happen if the pro-life movement focused on limiting abortions only in later stages of pregnancy without touching the 1st trimester. Would it still be fought due to a perception of a larger religious conservative agenda, or would it be more accepted because it would be a more moderate measure?

Kelley said...

Religion and the abortion debate don't need to mix, at least in the political world. Religious people can use religion to support their ideas, but only within their particular religious group. Other than that, it falls on deaf ears, and in political debates, it should. There are many scientific reasons to be pro-life, and I don't think belief in God is necessary to be pro-life at all. I agree with the first post that using religious debates turn A LOT of people away from the pro-life debate. Another problem is that abortion supporters are afraid of any infringement on current pro-life laws because they are afraid of the potential tidal wave that might occur that would continue to erode their rights to an abortion. Personally, I am pro-life at any stage, but would be more than happy to just see abortion end at any point past the 12th week.

Anonymous said...

"68% of Americans think abortion should be illegal after the 1st trimester"

Not necessarily. Part of the ambivalence around the question of whether abortion should be illegal "in the second trimester" may be due to Gallup dividing a pregnancy into trimesters instead of weeks, or instead of pre- and post-viability. There's an actual difference between early second trimester (14 weeks pregnant) and late second trimester (26 weeks pregnant). It's quite possible that some respondents would be comfortable capping abortion at 3 months, but it's possible that others were thinking of something more like the halfway point, 4.5 months, or later.

Myself, I'm pro-choice without restriction, but if I had to accept one restriction on abortion (and just one), the restriction I'd be least frustrated accepting is the post-viability one. If a woman knows she's pregnant before viability (and she generally does), and there are no legal or medical reasons why she should want or need to abort late, I think a deadline around 25-27 weeks isn't entirely unreasonable.

But, of course, that's assuming good access to abortion services and no other little legal hoops to jump through, such as those the pro-lifers keep throwing at us, so that's not a position I actually currently take. But I can see why someone would.

Kelley said...

Problem with the viability argument is that is changes with medical advances. 100 years ago babies were largely not viable until well into the 30th week. Now, viability occurs at at least 24 weeks, and that age will continue to get younger. Babies have survived at as young as 21 weeks gestation. Another argument I've heard is when the baby can feel pain, which I think happens at around the 20th week.

M said...

Yes, I would be interested in polling questions that divided the stages into weeks, and/or along different developmental lines (i.e. heartbeat, brainwaves, viability, etc.). Still, though, Gallup does a better job than most abortion-related polls I've seen of getting into some detail. It seems like most polls just ask "Should abortion be legal?" I don't think the results of those polls shed much light at all.

Simon said...

100% agree Jameson. But hard to create a moderate position when you have to criticize both camps to do so. Throw in the politics in the US is toxic and frankly insane. Suggest greater resources for single mothers and you become a communist. Point out to Liberals that the logic of abortion justifies infanticide and you are a Nazi.

Kristin said...

I'll start out by saying I am pro life and a conservative christian. That being said I would like for us all to work together. I would love for this problem to be figured out so it won't be part of the political process. I do think our backgrounds divide us unnecessarily. I think this benefits the politicians only. My hard line would be when there is a heart beat. Our laws protect human life and we determine the end of human life with a heart beat so I believe we should determine it begins with a heart beat. I realize that's before the end of the 1st trimester (it's in the middle of it) but I feel like 2 months is plenty of time to end a pregnancy (given all of our technology). I also believe contraception should be easy to get to and same as birth control. I also believe the morning after pill is a great tool for those "whoops" ocassions. TO me this is all based on human rights and not religion and should be fair and balanced enough for us all to agree on.

Anonymous said...

If pro choicers are sometimes pro-abortion, then pro-lifers are sometimes violent church shooters, and clinic firebombers.

See what I did there? At least one pro-life activist committed murder and arson, therefore pro-lifers sometimes support murder and arson.

This website, in scope, is about as ridiculous as "Jews for Jesus" (a transparent attempt at proselytizing a group of people that don't want to be proselytized)

M said...

Given the entire point of this post was that most pro-choicers are actually pretty moderate, I can't help but feel you're simply looking for reasons to be dismissive.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love it when they try to euphemize their 'choice'. Take abortion off the choice menu, and what choice would they be supporting? "We want choices" sounds so much better/PC than "we want abortions". It's all just a semantics game. If abortion were made illegal today, what choice would they be pimping for? You hear SO much support from them for motherhood, adoption etc. Oh, wait, that's prolife. Heh.

Anonymous said...

If abortions were the goal, pro choicers would not support contraception, sex education, and a myriad of other abortion preventing policies. The same cannot be said for "pro life" people, who seem to care more about punishing/shaming women for making immoral decisions rather than protecting the rights of an unborn fetus.

Anonymous said...

If you wish to say something as ridiculous as "pro choice activists are pro abortion" then you have to understand that is as ridiculous as saying that "pro-life" advocates support violence against doctors who provide abortion services.

I took issue with the hyperbolic rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Should we pat women on the back for making immoral decisions, anon? Killing comes with a stigma. You support it, you get to own it. Again - if abortion were made illegal today, what choices would you be pimping for then? Too difficult a question to answer without falling back on perpetual victimhood?

Anonymous said...

M - I believe it would be fought, as I don't think it's possible for the two to be separated. Even YOU seem to be of the mind-set that abortion should be illegal at all stages - that would make this change (only allowing first trimester abortions) a stepping stone toward completely eliminating the choice of abortion/birth completely.

Isn't this website and blog devoted to tell pro-choicers how wrong they are? that pro-life all the way is the only way to be? That life begins at conception and, therefore, abortion shouldn't be allowed at all?

I am pro-choice. My personal feelings are that abortions should be legal up until the fetus would have a chance at surviving on its own, or until it can feel pain. Luckily, this occurs around the same time (~23 (min) weeks gestation).

Anonymous said...

And whose fault is there that there is a stigma to begin with?

Most likely, if abortion became illegal tomorrow, other Anon would be pimping for the CHOICE to become legal again. At least, that's what I'd be doing.

Anonymous said...

At least you admit abortion is the only choice you support. But we knew that already. Whose fault is it that there's a stigma attached to killing? That would be civilized society. If it's anarchy you're looking for, you know where the door is.

Anonymous said...

Hint: this is where you blame Christians for all your troubles, abortion zealots. The abortion issue is a handy little platform to hate on others because you can't defend your own shortcomings. Own it. said...

Anonymous, if you'd spoken to us at the convention, you'd know that SPL does not oppose contraception or sex education.

Got to love the stereotyping.

M said...

Actually, I said they are *sometimes* pro-abortion, and sometimes they are. There are sometimes anti-abortion activists that are violent. Neither of those statements are hyperbolic--they are literal. If it bothers you, perhaps you should send your complaints to the authors of the pro-abortion op-eds I linked.