In the last year a number of states have passed abortion restrictions. Virginia required women seeking to get abortions to have an ultrasound in 2011. Wisconsin just passed a similar law. Arkansas, along with a plethora of other states banned abortion after five months. Most recently, in Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina abortions have or are attempting to be banned at five months and much more strict regulations enforced on clinics that provide abortion services.
Liberals and pro-choicers would point to these examples as overreach by Republican majorities and the pro-life movement. But this ignores the fact that the pro-life movement has been winning the abortion debate for some time. Numerous polls have shown that a majority of the public supports banning abortion at five months. A new, national survey from the Huffington Post found by a 59%-30% margin people generally supported banning abortion after five months. In Texas and North Carolina a majority of the public supports legislation aimed at further regulating abortion clinics and clamping down on abortions after five months.
Public opinion on abortion has moved over the years. In 1973 when Roe vs. Wade was decided a solid majority of the public supported abortions. Compare that to 2006, when John Roberts was nominated for the Supreme Court and support had dipped below 50%. Now consider these numbers compared to Gallup’s 2012 results which showed 50% identified as pro-life and 41% as pro-choice. This does not mean that everybody who identifies as pro-life wants abortions banned in all instances but it does mean they likely have a tendency to side with life.
If one was new to the debate, one might think that the pro-life movement has been hurt by Republican gaffes on abortion and rape. But the public appears smart enough to differentiate between the political parties that advocate a cause and the movements that advocate the same. While politicians generally have stronger opinions on the issue the public has to weigh a number of other positions politicians have. Certainly, politicians out of step with constituents will likely lose but it does not mean a pro-life voter who backs a pro-choice candidate is any less pro-life.
While the party that advocates pro-life positions, the GOP, might struggle with messaging on the issue the pro-life movement has had no such issue. Their outreach efforts over the last decade have focused largely on medical advancements that allow a five month old fetus to survive outside the womb. Also, showcasing the conditions the abortions are done in and how they are done has turned people off to the practice.
The pro-life movement’s wins on the issue are even more stunning when one looks at demographic and socio-economic trends. Fewer and fewer Americans are higher income, highly educated and married. Yet, this has not stopped more and more individuals from the lower-income and education levels of society from identifying as pro-life. In states like Texas and North Carolina with burgeoning minority populations, support for pro-life legislation largely comes from college educated whites and minorities (primarily Hispanics).
Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Emily’s List, the major political organizations for pro-choice causes would argue this is simply a response to stories about Kermit Gosnell in Pennsylvania. They might have a point. But one would think that several months later the public would return to its split stance on the issue. Also, the arguments that pro-choice advocates use against new laws or rules likely ring hollow with the public.
For evidence of this phenomenon look at the example of Pennsylvania. Under a pro-choice GOP Governor and a Democratic legislature, health regulations and abortion restrictions were relaxed on clinics across the state. This made the state’s Dept. of Health ignore warnings on the Gosnell clinic for well over a decade. When it was discovered what was done at the Gosnell clinic public opinion flipped immediately in the state on abortion. New rules and restrictions were proposed by a pro-life GOP Governor and legislature. Pro-choice groups argued the rules would shut down almost every major abortion clinic in the state; this is the same argument they are using against the legislation in Texas and North Carolina. But almost a year after the new laws were passed in Pennsylvania most clinics remain open. Few closed and fewer actually faced any real hardship from the new laws.
Wins like this show why the pro-life movement is not backing down on the issue. Modern medical science has helped their cause, public opinion is moving their way and the lack of regulations on abortion clinics provide them the motivation they need to push on their cause. Public opinion on the issue has moved over time and it could move back in the pro-choice movement’s favor. But for right now, it is the pro-life movement that is winning the debate.
Update: The Texas Senate passed abortion restriction legislation Saturday which is sure to be signed by Governor Rick Perry and challenged in court by pro-choice groups.