Commentary by Colin Mason
June 30, 2009 (PRI) – Is pro-choice the new pro-life? According to the New York Times, it doesn't really matter, because you probably don't understand the terms anyway.
According to the Times the recent Gallup Poll showing that a majority of Americans are pro-life is faulty at best, and downright sinister at worst.
The poll, conducted May 7-10, found that 51% of Americans are now “calling themselves 'pro-life' on the issue of abortion and 42% 'pro-choice.' According to Gallup, this is “the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.”
Not only did Gallup find these results to be consistent in two other surveys (the details can be found on Gallup's web site here), they also gave a rather forthright opinion as to why they thought this shift was occurring. President Obama's radical policies, Gallup said, are actually alienating many Americans who would consider themselves to be “pro-choice,” causing them to shift over toward the pro-life position:
“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. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction.”
This sounds quite reasonable to me. Having a president who is radically pro-abortion might well cause the significant shift in opinions concerning abortion that Gallup detected.
Liberal opinion leaders, however, have been quick to condemn the poll as faulty, irrelevant, or simplistic.
“Young people are not suddenly turning prolife,” scoffs Ruth Coniff of The Progressive. “They just view the abortion issue differently. The fact that we grew up in the era of safe, legal abortion makes women under the age of 50 a bit complacent about the issue.”
Mark Mellman of The Hill agrees, saying that “typically, after some useless result escapes into the ether, reporters and interest groups proceed to spin some new theory of public opinion based on faulty analysis of a meaningless question.”
Dalia Sussman of the New York Times goes even further. She first says that it “does not necessarily indicate a marked shift in Americans' views on this highly complicated issue.” Then she cites other polling data done by different agencies to show how the numbers vary. She concludes by insulting the people Gallup polled, saying that “there is no way of knowing whether people being asked the question even know what the two labels mean.”
The shift in polling data – and the liberals' efforts to discredit it – is cast into sharp relief by President Obama's recent address at Notre Dame. The President, in his speech, expressed the hope that pro-life and pro-choice advocates could find “common ground” on the subject of abortion.
“Let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term,” said Obama. “Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”
This speech, which is full of such glowing, hopeful rhetoric, rings hollow when compared with Obama's record. What in the world does he mean by a “sensible conscience clause,” given that he has already struck down existing conscience provisions?
Obama's rhetorical flourishes are cited ad nauseam by the media as evidence of “bipartisan progress,” but they are actually little more than deceptive propaganda.
Pro-lifers have not, and will not, be lulled to sleep by such mouthings. We realize that human life is at stake. We agree that women should have better gynecological care; that there should be fewer teen pregnancies, that there should be more adoption. We agree that women should be happy and safe and free. But we will not willingly allow anyone to take a human life, which is what an abortion does.
It is thus ludicrous to suggest that the two sides “work together” on the issue of abortion. There can be no common ground on the morality of abortion.
I believe that, contra the New York Times, those surveyed by the Gallup poll knew exactly what they were being asked when they were questioned on whether or not they were “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” The terms outline positions that have existed on our political landscape for more than 30 years. To suggest that somehow, the idea of the pro-life movement is shifting, becoming more oriented around issues that “really matter,” like women's health or reproductive freedom, is naëve.
And to President Obama: it's our movement, you can join us if you like, but the terms of the debate are already well defined, and are not subject to redefinition.
Colin Mason is the Director of Media Production at Population Research Institute.