What the polls really show about Roe v. Wade
Much is being made of a recent poll released by NBC and the Wall Street Journal whose findings indicate that 70 percent of Americans do not favor overturning Roe v. Wade. This data, however, is based on a question that badly mischaracterizes the holding of Roe.
The question asked in the poll states that Roe “established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.” What the Roe decision actually legalized was abortion on demand in all nine months of pregnancy, as a result of the “health exception,” defined in Doe v. Bolton.
Honest journalists such as David Savage of the Los Angeles Times have reported the truth about Roe, saying the Supreme Court created an “absolute right to abortion” under which “any abortion can be justified.”
Additionally, when asked whether or not the respondent approved of Roe v. Wade, 41 percent admitted they did not know enough to have an opinion. This same poll shows that 67 percent of Americans favor some sort of restriction on abortion, which would mean that the Roe decision, which effectively legalized abortion on demand, is not supported by a majority of Americans. This result was mirrored in a December 2012 poll conducted by Marist, which found that 83 percent of people believe abortion should be significantly restricted.
Also not addressed in the NBC-WSJ poll are the repercussions of a decision to correct Roe v. Wade. Contrary to widely held belief, correcting Roe would not result in making abortion illegal across the board. Rather, it would simply allow the democratic process to operate as intended – allowing citizens to set limits on abortion through their state’s elected officials. In fact, the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) has already rejected Roe’s framework, replacing the outdated trimester framework with the “undue burden” test. Casey and other abortion-related cases have established that states do, in fact, have significant interest in protecting unborn life throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
This poll lacks a basic understanding of the holdings of Roe and its progeny. Based on these poll results, the case can be made that now is a time for an augmented public discussion of Roe and subsequent abortion cases, as many of our fellow citizens are ill-informed on the state of abortion law in America.
Regardless of one’s interpretation of the polls, the substantial gains made in the pro-life movement over the last 40 years, especially in the areas of state-level legislation and youth activism, should not be underestimated. As TIME magazine noted, the “pro-choice” movement has been losing steam for years. Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, are attempting to move away from the “pro-choice” label as a way to gain more supporters because they know that a majority of Americans believe abortion is wrong in the vast majority of cases.
Planned Parenthood might be able to market their abortion business more effectively, but they can never alter the essential truth that abortion ends one life and scars another. It always has, and always will.
Anna Higgins, J.D., is director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.