- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Most Americans have made up their minds on the abortion issue, but there is no agreement about how and when abortion laws should be applied, a poll shows.

A solid majority of Americans feel that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, should be upheld. But most support at least some restrictions on when abortions can be performed.

Most Americans say they think having an abortion should be a personal choice, but many also say they think it is murder.

“Rock solid in its absolutely contradictory opinions” is how public opinion researcher Karlyn Bowman describes the nation’s mind-set on the abortion issue.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds that most Americans are ensconced in what one policy analyst calls the “big mushy middle” on the issue.

In this latest poll, 19 percent of Americans said abortion should always be legal, 16 percent said it should never be legal and 6 percent did not have an opinion. That left nearly three-fifths of America somewhere in between.

If public opinion is stable, the political landscape is anything but.

The arrival of two new justices on the Supreme Court has stoked speculation about how abortion laws could be affected. Also, there has been a flurry of action at the state level to ban or sharply restrict access to the procedure.

In 2005, states enacted 52 measures to restrict access to abortion, said the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, and more are pending. Most notably, South Dakota this month outlawed almost all abortions. Supporters hope the move will provoke a legal challenge that results in the new, more conservative Supreme Court overturning Roe.

There is no evidence that all this activity is causing Americans to rethink their views.

“When we as a society make up our minds about something, as we have about abortion, most people tend to pull away from it,” said Miss Bowman, an American Enterprise Institute fellow who has studied abortion opinion over the decades. “Something really significant has to occur to bring Americans back into the debate.”

For the AP survey, taken Feb. 28 through March 2, two-thirds of Democrats said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while two-thirds of Republicans said it should be illegal all or most of the time.

The poll of 1,001 U.S. adults, which had a margin of error of three percentage points, showed an overall advantage for the pro-choice side of the debate: A combined 53 percent said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 42 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a strategy group for moderate Democrats, said pro-life forces made significant inroads during the 1990s by appealing to what he calls the “abortion grays” — those in the middle who do not think abortion should be completely legal or illegal.

They did this, he said, by pushing restrictions on access to abortion rather than making a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice supporters, he said, alienated those in the middle with their rigid opposition to any restrictions.

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