- - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In a recent article, NARAL Pro-Choice America released a poll making the startling claim that nearly 70 percent of registered voters say the government should not restrict access to abortion. Although this is a convenient narrative, it’s less than representative of American opinion, and I suspect they know it. What do Americans think? How does that align with leaders of both sides of the abortion debate? Let’s be honest.

According to a 2014 CNN survey, 20 percent of respondents say abortion should always be illegal, and 38 percent say most abortions should be illegal — so that’s 58 percent of Americans who oppose all or virtually all abortions. The poll also states that less than a third of self-identified Democrats embrace legal abortion in all circumstances — President Obama being in that small category. (So much for abortion being above his pay grade.) In fact, just 27 percent of Americans side with Planned Parenthood, Mr. Obama, and the Democratic Party platform in believing abortions should always be legal.

Upon a closer look at the NARAL poll, the numbers show only 24.7 percent of those polled responded with “I believe having an abortion is morally acceptable and should be legal,” 45.5 percent responded with “I am personally against abortion for myself and my family, but I don’t believe government should prevent a woman from making that decision for herself,” and 24.7 percent responded with “I believe having an abortion is morally wrong and should be illegal.”

When you approach the poll from a different angle, you see that around 70 percent of respondents answered that they are personally against abortion. These Americans feel that abortion is wrong, most likely recognizing the humanity of the child in utero. However, they stop short of saying that the baby should be protected by law. Whether they answered this way for fear of being “politically incorrect” or “infringing on female reproductive rights” we may never know — but we know NARAL’s poll calls these women “pro-choice,” when the reality is much more complicated.

Furthermore, the NARAL poll only asks about “access to abortion” and does not mention restrictions based on the stage of pregnancy. If they did, they would have found out what polling by Quinnipiac, National Journal, Huffington Post, NBC News/The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post/ABC News all revealed: A majority of Americans support limiting abortion after 20 weeks. Sixty percent of women think abortion after 20 weeks should be illegal. (53 percent of men agree.)

However, the left doesn’t want to have this discussion. In a recent article in The Washington Post, Janet Harris said that “[t]o say that deciding to have an abortion is a ‘hard choice’ implies a debate about whether the fetus should live, thereby endowing it with a status of being. By implying that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue, pro-choice advocates forfeit control of the discussion to anti-choice conservatives.”

I love when the other side takes off the filter and says what they really think. The reason the discussion is being framed thus is that it happens to be the truth, and the public instinctively knows it. It’s a better strategy for the left to embrace it and deal with it than pretend otherwise. As much as abortion advocates want to compare abortion to “other surgical procedures” such as dental work, there is a much deeper significance to this decision. The debate continues, as much as Ms. Harris dislikes it.

Roe v. Wade sought to end the healthy debate on abortion, and here we find ourselves 41 years later with history, human experience, and science on our side. We know that at 20 weeks, babies can feel pain, require anesthesia for fetal surgery, hiccup, grow hair and respond to their mother’s voice. To say otherwise is “flat earth” talk.

Once again, the public gets it. A June 2014 poll, conducted by The Polling Company, found that 75 percent of people support pain-capable bills that protect 20-week or older unborn children from abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

Here’s where it gets complicated for pro-life advocates. As Ms. Harris acknowledges in her article, “The percentage of women seeking an abortion because they were victims of rape or incest was less than 1.5 percent.” Pro-lifers see life in black and white. Life begins at conception, and we can’t escape the nagging belief that a child has no choice in the circumstances of his or her conception. Some of us are victims of sexual trauma and still believe that abortion further victimizes women because it burdens their hearts and souls for years to come. This is the hardest question we have to answer and a struggle within our own movement.

However, regardless of the philosophical questions, we agree that it’s essential to protect as many babies as possible, and public policy is downstream of public opinion. Even though most pro-life organizations have worked for legislation that contains rape-and-incest exceptions, the other side is not nearly as accommodating. They will not rest until any number of taxpayer-funded abortions are available at any stage of development for any reason (even sex selection) at clinics with no health regulations. The public may not agree with the hard-core pro-life community, but they certainly don’t agree with NARAL.

Right now, they are holding their ground legislatively on the federal level (but not the states). However, public opinion and science is on our side and, therefore, the laws will inevitably more accurately reflect those views in a very short time. Polling data and focus-grouped arguments can’t help you when truth is not on your side.

Penny Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America.

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