Gallup: Two-thirds of Americans don't want Roe overturned

Worth noting, given that all ten Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely reference this Gallup poll when questioning Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. According to their survey taken after Anthony Kennedy’s retirement but before Kavanaugh’s nomination, almost two-thirds of Americans oppose overturning Roe v Wade. Whether that should enter into confirmation choices is a more nuanced matter, however:

As the U.S. Senate prepares to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the public is strongly opposed to any attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide. Currently, 64% of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, while 28% would like to see it overturned. …

Almost six in 10 Americans who say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned (57%) think that a nominee’s position on issues is justification for voting against them. Conversely, a similar percentage of those who would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned (59%) do not think a nominee’s views on issues are justification to vote against them.

In one sense, this isn’t a big surprise. Gallup runs a series of polls on different aspects of the abortion issue, and this result lines up with last month’s views on abortion in general. However, that only applied to abortions in the first trimester, which sixty percent of respondents said should remain legal. After that, though, it drops off dramatically, with only 28% supporting legal abortions in the second trimester, and 13% in the third trimester. And even some of that support for first-trimester abortions erodes when it’s done for the convenience of the mother, which only 45% support as a reason for legality.

That parallels Roe, Gallup argues:

Importantly, public opinion also mirrors the conceptual framework used in the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Under that historic ruling, the interests of the mother are paramount in the first trimester, but the state has an interest in protecting the fetus after viability. In the words of the decision: “For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

The wording of Roe v. Wade aligns almost perfectly with where Americans stand on late-term abortions — keep them legal to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest, but not for other reasons. Where Americans seem to depart from the decision is in supporting certain restrictions on first-term abortions, particularly those performed because of Down syndrome or solely at the woman’s discretion.

Well, maybe, although only getting to 45% for legal abortion for anything other than health reasons doesn’t quite match the Roe model. Nor does it match the Roe outcome, which has been the wholesale destruction of human life in the womb since 1973 at 60 million and counting. That’s a whole lot of convenience-related abortions, no matter how one attempts to fit it into a “safe-legal-rare” description.  The problem with that analysis is that Roe and subsequently Casey didn’t just open the door to first-trimester abortions; they made it all but impossible for states to regulate any other abortions, even though Roe declared a state interest on behalf of unborn children after viability.

Michael New sees issues within the polling questions and techniques that skew the results, even before this latest Gallup iteration:

These polls are all misleading for several reasons. First, a significant number of Americans are unfamiliar with the Roe v. Wade decision. A Pew Research Center poll taken in 2013 found that only 62 percent of respondents were aware that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion. Seventeen percent thought Roe v. Wade dealt with some other public-policy issue and 20 percent were unfamiliar with the decision. Furthermore, even many who realize Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion fail to understand the full implications of the decision. Many wrongly think that overturning Roe v. Wade would result in national ban on abortion, instead a reversal of Roe would return the issue to the states. …

In 2006, Crisis Magazine published a useful article by Mark Stricherz, which analyzed polling on Roe v. Wade. He looks at the polls conducted during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of John Roberts and Samuel Alito in the mid 2000s. A Gallup poll at this time described Roe v. Wade as the decision that “legalized abortion” giving respondents the incorrect impression that abortion was always illegal beforehand. The Pew Research Center survey described Roe v. Wade as having “established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.” Both the Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that support for Roe v. Wade was over 60 percent. However, when the Los Angeles Times described Roe v. Wade as the decision “which permits a woman to get an abortion from a doctor at any time” — support fell to 43 percent.

There may be no good way to frame the question, except by perhaps asking multiple questions about it in the same sample. Ask about support for abortion in general and at different stages, ask about support for Roe, and then ask about support for state laws curtailing abortions in the second and third trimesters to support the state’s interest in protecting unborn children at or near the stage of viability. Even that would run into the potential for bias, but at least it would get us closer to a detailed estimation of the extent of support for abortion on demand, and for the realities of Roe.

What does that mean for Kavanaugh’s confirmation? It provides Senate Democrats with another talking point, especially shorn of its context, but probably not much more. Even if we accept the Gallup and Pew models as accurate as far as they take the questions, Americans still seem to choose pro-life politicians over pro-choice more often than not. Either Roe doesn’t rise to a high level of priority for them, or these polls aren’t really measuring abortion support and opposition well. Or both.

Note: I’ll talk with Michael New today on Relevant Radio’s A Closer Look at 6 pm ET. Be sure to tune in!

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