Many “Pro-Life” Americans Don’t Want to Outlaw Abortion

A pro-choice protester in Seattle.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/5544935074/sizes/m/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Flickr/Sea Turtle</a>


The big exciting news for Republicans in the latest Gallup poll on abortion is that more Americans identify as “pro-life” and fewer identify as “pro-choice” than ever. Although that’s probably not meaningless, Americans’ views on whether abortion should be legal haven’t actually changed at all.

Here’s the carefully written lede from Life News: “A new Gallup survey out today finds the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as supporting legalized abortion has dropped to a record low.” It’s true that the pro-life movement sees itself as opposing all forms of legalized abortion and 50 percent of Americans now identify as pro-life. But when you look at what the poll results actually say, it’s clear Americans’ feelings about abortion being legal are much more complicated:

Since 2001, at least half of Americans have consistently chosen the middle position, saying abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and the 52% saying this today is similar to the 50% in May 2011. The 25% currently wanting abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20% in favor of making it illegal in all cases are also similar to last year’s findings.

So a large majority—77 percent—of Americans support abortion being legal in all or “certain circumstances,” and just 20 percent of Americans are actually “pro-life” in the sense that opponents of legalized abortion understand the term. Another way of saying this is that most Americans are actually pro-choice even if they sometimes identify as pro-life. In fact, there are more Americans who think abortion should be legal in all circumstances (25 percent) than think it should be illegal in all circumstances (20 percent).

That’s good news for someone, but not for people who want to outlaw abortion.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

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