Gallup just released a stunning new poll that finds the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “pro-choice” has reached a record low of 41 percent. Self-identified pro-lifers, on the other hand, are far ahead at 50 percent.
The contest between the two identifications has been fairly close since Gallup began monitoring it, back in 1995. Both sides have enjoyed brief spikes in popularity, which subsequently faded. Pro-life has generally been on top for the past couple of years, however.
It will take time to discover if this new poll is an anomaly, or the beginning of a sustained shift in popular opinion, accelerating a trend toward pro-life that has been in progress for many years. What makes it stunning is that a significant political effort has been made, by the Party that dominates media and popular culture, to aggressively advance the pro-choice view… which is now linked to the compulsory provision of “free” birth control, not just the actual procedure of abortion. Gallup mentions the big stories about Planned Parenthood funding, the Susan G. Komen For the Cure controversy, and Catholic resistance to ObamaCare as big stories consuming public attention.
It is generally easier to tell a pollster you’re “pro-choice.” It’s the “default” position, seasoned with non-judgmentalism: “Other people can choose to do whatever they want. It’s none of my business.” It’s also the cultural default, as popular culture is almost universally hostile to pro-lifers. They’re treated as weirdos, and usually hypocrites, in movies and TV shows. They’re also strongly linked with Hollywood’s general caricature of religious people as oddballs, mindless robots, and phonies.
“Pro-choice” is also depicted as the much broader position, covering everything from “no serious opinion” to support for infanticide. “Pro-life” is understood to be a more narrow, committed position. It is also, from a strategic standpoint, the more aggressive position, since pro-choice has been legally entrenched for decades, during which a very large number of abortions has occurred. The pro-lifers are the agents of change.
And yet, pro-lifers have outnumbered pro-choicers in the Gallup poll for most of the past three years, and they’ve been picking up steam fairly steadily since 1995. At a moment of great political energy for the pro-choice side, its popularity has plunged sharply. (Most of the big nine-point gap is due to a sharp drop in pro-choice identification, which happened across the political spectrum.)
Is this because advances in medical science have made it increasingly difficult to regard unborn children as “unviable tissue masses?” That probably accounts for a good deal of the general trend toward pro-life identification over the past fifteen years. Interestingly, the percentage of people who identify as pro-choice is significantly larger than the percentage that believes abortion is morally acceptable, 41 percent to 38 percent.
I wonder if part of this month’s drop in pro-choice identification is pushback against the sense that “pro-choice” is increasingly associated with compulsive government force. There may be a good number of people who don’t really have strong opinions about abortion, and therefore generally regard themselves as essentially “pro-choice” by default… but dislike the Obama Administration’s assault on religious liberty, and the increasingly ugly strong-arm tactics Planned Parenthood uses to keep the taxpayer money spigot open.
Pro-lifers, on the other hand, have made remarkable strides through persuasion. They are a true counter-culture, and they’ve made some of their greatest gains among the youngest segment of the popularion, a group heavily influenced by the culture pro-lifers oppose. Even the National Abortion Rights Action League has detected increasingly broad and intense support for the pro-life position among young people, a fact they find extremely troubling.
There are people who instinctively recoil from what they perceive as narrow-minded attempts to “impose morality” through political force. Once upon a time, they thought pro-lifers were the pushy prudes, but it has become very difficult to maintain that belief.