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Most Americans disapprove of Roe decision, polls show

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 23, 2020

The headlines don’t convey the message. In fact the Washington Post story carefully points out that among the respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, “7 in 10 said that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.” Yet the polls released this week—and all the surveys of public opinion on legal abortion, dating back to the 1970s—clearly show that the majority of Americans oppose the policies that Roe set in place.

The Kaiser poll, and another Marist survey released this week, show that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that abortion should be restricted. True, only a small minority supports a complete ban on abortion. But few Americans—roughly one in four, according to these polls—believe that abortion should be legal under all circumstances. Even among those who identify themselves as “pro-choice,” nearly half—47%, according to the Marist poll—support some legal restrictions.

Yet today, under the legal regime established by Roe, for all practical purposes there are no legal restriction on abortion. Insofar as state legislation has established some modest protections for the unborn, those new laws have invariably faced court challenges, which cite the Roe and Doe decisions as support for unrestricted abortion on demand. Abortion advocates are right when they say that any effort to restrict legal abortion is a threat to Roe v. Wade.

How is it, then, that while most Americans disapprove of the Roe decision, poll after poll finds a majority anxious to uphold that decision? The answer should be obvious: Thanks to the perverse coverage of the mainstream media, 46 years after the most controversial Supreme Court decision in the past century, most Americans don’t know the legal situation that Roe established.

Read the polls, and read the newspaper accounts. (The Wall Street Journal article—which is actually an op-ed, written by a leading pro-life advocate—is a rare exception.) The stories suggest the need to find some middle ground on abortion, between opposite extremes. But where is that middle ground? Shouldn’t we be looking for it in the message from the American majority: in reasonable legal restrictions on abortion?

Read the coverage of the March for Life this weekend (if there is any coverage), and you will find the mainstream media again searching for that middle ground. But then the spotlight will swing back to the presidential debates, and the contest among Democratic challengers to find new ways to expand federal support for abortion—while their Republican critics timidly suggest a few incremental changes at the margin.

Dedicated pro-lifers will never be satisfied with partial restraints on abortion. We are not trying to save some unborn children; we want to protect all babies. But again, the pro-abortion lobby is right to fear even the most modest restrictions, because any protection for unborn children represents a challenge to Roe. Once the American majority accepts the premise that some unborn children deserve legal protection, it will be impossible to stop the logical progression toward the conclusion that all unborn children deserve protection.

It might not be easy to find the political middle ground on the abortion issue, but it is easy enough to find the extreme. Because thanks to Roe—with a nod to the complicity of the liberal media—the extreme is now the status quo.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jan. 25, 2020 11:00 AM ET USA

    Another reason why abortion may still be legal, not only in the US but also in other democracies, is that while the majority may not agree with abortion in all stages of pregnancy, they may see other issues in the candidates they vote for as more important. Thus, the issue of abortion may not be a very high priority for voters.