- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009

More Americans now say they are “pro-life” than “pro-choice,” according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

A majority of respondents 51 percent are against the practice of abortion, while 42 percent classified themselves as being pro-choice.

“This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995,” said Gallup analyst Lydia Saad.

The findings represent “a significant shift from a year ago,” when 50 percent of the respondents were pro-choice and 44 percent pro-life. The numbers of Republicans, Protestants, Catholics, conservatives, men and women who identify themselves as pro-life are all rising.

It seems a change in the White House has prompted the change of heart.

“With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation’s policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans and, in particular, Republicans seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position,” Ms.] Saad said.

Among Republicans, 70 percent are pro-life, up from 60 percent last year. The number who are pro-choice has fallen from 36 percent to 26 percent in the same time period. Sentiments among Democrats have remained steady for almost a decade: 61 percent of Democrats say they are pro-choice and 33 percent are pro-life, with insignificant variances over the years.

“It is possible that, through his abortion policies, President Obama has pushed the public’s understanding of what it means to be ‘pro-choice’ slightly to the left, politically,” Ms. Saad said. “While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction.”

Pro-choice groups, however, say the survey is far from the the final word on abortion rights.

“The findings in this Gallup poll do not square with the voting patterns in the last two elections cycles,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “It would be a mistake for anti-choice groups to interpret this one poll as a signal that Americans want even more interference from politicians in their personal, private decisions, including a woman’s right to choose safe, legal abortion.”

Gallup’s findings come at a potentially volatile time for Mr. Obama, who is scheduled to address the graduating class of Notre Dame on Sunday. He will also receive an honorary law degree from the Catholic university.

Already, more than a dozen pro-life demonstrators led by past presidential hopeful Alan Keyes were arrested Friday after protesting Mr. Obama’s appearance. Pro-life Notre Dame students plan to boycott the commencement and attend a prayer vigil instead.

Liberal Catholics, meanwhile, launched their own volley with a full page ad in the South Bend Tribune announcing their support of Mr. Obama and a “civil dialogue.”

The situation has presented an opportunity for some.

“I think that to the degree that Notre Dame still thinks of itself as a Catholic institution, it raises real questions. One, it invites somebody who, as a state senator, voted to protect the right of abortionists to kill babies,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News this week. “And I think the president’s position has been the most radical pro-abortion of any American president.”

Friday’s Gallup poll shows that 71 percent of conservatives are pro-life, up five percentage points from last year. 59 percent of Protestants or “other Christians” are pro-life compared with 51 percent a year ago. Among Roman Catholics, the numbers rose from 45 percent to 52 percent.

Feelings are shifting among the sexes as well.

“Now, because of heightened pro-life sentiment among both groups, women as well as men are more likely to be pro-life,” the poll stated.

In 2008, half of women were pro-choice; now the number stands at 44 percent. Another 43 percent said they were pro-life a year ago. That number is now 49 percent.

Among men, the findings are more pronounced: 49 percent identified themselves as pro-choice a year ago; the number fell to 39 percent this year. A clear majority of men 54 percent are now pro-life, compared with 46 percent a year ago.

The poll of 1,015 adults was conducted May 7-9 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.

“Americans are now seeing through the PR-generated label, ‘pro-choice.’ Sonograms and real-life experience have deemed this label hollow,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

“President Obama and the pro-abortion majority in Congress are in a collision course with public opinion on abortion policy. What we’re debating right now taxpayer funding for abortion dramatically outstrips public opinion,” she said.

The numbers could present an opportunity for the Republican Party.

“If Republicans want to improve their electoral performance, standing on the side of life is one of the best decisions they can make,” said Ms. Dannenfelser.

The Pew Research Center also has found support for abortions slipping among Americans. In a survey of 1,521 adults conducted March 31 to April 21, the group found that 46 percent approve of legalized abortion down from 54 percent a year earlier.

Americans appear to have redirected their attention on abortion after Mr. Obama’s presidential victory last November, when the nation was more preoccupied during the 2008 presidential campaign with the economy rather than social issues.

About 18,000 voter exit polls taken in key battleground states found that 80 percent to 90 percent of voters cited the influence of economic issues on their decision.

“The coming four years will see a widening gap between the people and their president on this fundamental issue,” the Rev. Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, said at the time.

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