The balance between pro-choice women and women who say abortion should be outlawed or severely restricted is shifting toward the pro-life side, bumping that group into the majority in the debate over reproductive rights, according to a new national poll.
Fifty-one percent of women surveyed by the Center for the Advancement of Women said the government should prohibit abortion or limit it to extreme cases, such as rape, incest, or life-threatening complications.
The findings, with a 3 percent margin of error for the 1,000 women surveyed, tips the scale from the last sampling in 2001, when 45 percent of women sided against making abortion readily available or imposing only mild restrictions. Only 30 percent support making it generally available, down from 34 percent in 2001, the survey found.
The New York-based center that sponsored the survey is a nonpartisan advocacy group for pro-choice women's rights. The center's president, Faye Wattleton, headed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for 14 years.
"While we do have a certain point of view on women's issues, we don't believe we should suppress information," Mrs. Wattleton said in an interview yesterday with The Washington Times. "You don't want to create false or artificial data."
The results, announced with a series of women's responses to issues such as domestic violence and affirmative action, found that fewer women -- 41 percent -- consider protecting abortion a top priority, an 8 percent drop from 2001. Of the 12 top priorities, keeping abortion legal was second to last, beating only the percentage of women who want to increase the number of girls participating in organized sports.
Eighty percent of women also reported having no second thoughts about their views on abortion.
Mrs. Wattleton, a women's rights activist in the 1970s, called the survey's results a "disturbing" step against the pro-choice perspective. She pointed to another part of the survey in which 50 percent of women said they believe the Supreme Court will let current abortion laws stand. Women who predicted the court would change the law said by a 2-to-1 margin that the court would make getting an abortion more difficult instead of easier, the survey said.
At issue during the high court's recent session was whether one or several of the justices would step down, opening the door to a President Bush appointee. The Bush administration has been tightening the restrictions on certain types of abortions after President Clinton undid many limitations from previous administrations.
"It's a broader issue now than mere reproductive rights," said Mrs. Wattleton, adding that changing administrations shouldn't seesaw on what she considers an inalienable right. "I've always felt it struck at the status of women in society.
"But even if we hold our noses at it, we want to be sure we show women's true perspective."
Pro-life groups applauded that portion of the survey, saying they were glad the organization did not skew results in its favor.
"They're concerned about the shift, and rightfully so," said Ann Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. "We are winning. It's by no means going to be in a year are two, but our effort is to eventually make abortion unthinkable."
The survey findings come just after the Supreme Court decided not to hear a case in which a federal appeals court barred anti-abortion groups from publishing Internet "wanted" posters for doctors who perform abortions. The lower court's judge ruled a year ago that although the posters contained no threatening language, the criminal-style look amounted to "true threats" not protected by the First Amendment.
The poll also found that 43 percent of women reported facing prejudice or discrimination in the workplace because of their sex, although only 50 percent said affirmative-action programs should continue. Roughly one-third said affirmative action should either be phased out or ended immediately.
The center's poll, titled "Progress and Perils: New Agenda for Women," was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, an independent research company specializing in social and policy work. The center's Web site and survey is located at www.advancewomen.org.