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EXPLAINER: How do Americans view the issue of abortion, really?

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NASHVILLE (BP) – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – a ruling that overturned the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and 1992 decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood – there has, rightly, been a chorus of rejoicing among pro-life advocates. But the cheers of the pro-life community, it seems, have been matched by the public outcry of those lamenting this court’s monumental decision. From late-night talk show hosts to members of Congress to Hollywood actors and actresses, the mass of objectors, not to mention their collective noise and blatant vitriol, while not surprising, has nevertheless been disconcerting. Combine that with results from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll (and others like it) that preceded the Supreme Court decision, revealing that 64 PERCENT of Americans opposed the overturn of Roe, and we have to ask: is the American public really this pro-abortion?

New polling data gathered from a recent Harvard-Harris Poll, published in early July, helps answer this question. And its answer tells a different and more nuanced story than what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on our television and computer screens.

Americans’ thoughts on Roe

Headlining most of these studies, though the numbers vary, is the reality that a majority of Americans did, in fact, oppose the overturn of Roe v. Wade. For instance:

  • As mentioned above, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll, a survey of more than 1,300 American adults interviewed in May 2022, revealed that 64 percent of respondents “[did] not think Roe v. Wade should be overturned.”
  • A 2020 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 69 percent of those surveyed opposed the overturn of Roe.
  • More recently, a survey conducted by the Land Center for Cultural Engagement and Lifeway Christian Research “found that most Americans (52 percent) don’t favor the overturning of Roe. v. Wade.”
  • Finally, the Harvard-Harris Poll, conducted in June 2022 “among 1308 registered voters,” showed that “over half of voters (55 percent) oppose[d] SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Like it or not, regardless of the study referenced, it is clear that a majority of Americans, for a variety of reasons, did not favor the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. So, what are we to make of this? Are we to assume that the majority of Americans, by virtue of their opposition to the overturn of Roe, are necessarily pro-abortion? If we dig a little deeper, public opinion is not as disheartening as these numbers may seem to suggest.

Digging deeper

While the headline of many of these polls is the American public’s general support for Roe, it is the additional polling data that sheds light on the public sentiment surrounding the issue of abortion. If we go no further than reading these headlines, we may draw the mistaken conclusion that the majority of respondents in these surveys are not just pro-Roe but pro-abortion. But that’s not what the survey data reveals. For example, Leo O’Malley, a Notre Dame law student and contributor to the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy, observed the following data points from the Harvard-Harris Poll:

  • While 55 percent of those polled opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, 49 percent support an abortion ban after six weeks, and 72 percent support an abortion ban after 15 weeks.
  • Only 10 percent of respondents support the Democratic position of allowing abortion up until birth.

The findings of the Harvard-Harris Poll were, in large part, corroborated by a survey conducted by The Economist/YouGov in June 2022, showing that 38 percent, 54 percent and 66 percent of respondents were in favor of banning abortion after six weeks, three months and 15 weeks, respectively.

Likewise, the study conducted by the Land Center and Lifeway Christian Research revealed similar findings.

  • Among those polled, 41 percent favored restrictions after the sixth week of pregnancy, 52 percent after the 12th week, 59 percent after the 15th week, and 65 percent after the 20th week.
  • Only 10 percent of Americans support abortion up until the moment of birth.
  • 69 percent of Americans say that reducing abortions is important.

Even the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll, a poll that seems especially sympathetic to the pro-abortion position, recognized “the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion rights.” After highlighting the strict partisan divide on the issue of abortion, the study goes on to report that, outside of the extremes, “nearly seven in ten (68 percent) [Americans] support some type of restrictions on abortion.”

Contrary to what is most often projected on our computer and television screens, it seems that the American public has a more nuanced view on the topic of abortion than we are led to believe. What does that mean for the church and the ongoing work of the pro-life movement?

Moving others with love and good deeds

While these numbers don’t reflect the views and opinions of those within our church pews exactly – ”evangelicals are the cohort [that] is most pro-life,” as the Land Center/Lifeway Christian Research study made clear – they prove that the so-called consensus on “abortion rights” in this country is a myth, and that people are generally closer to the pro-life position of outlawing abortion than they are the pro-choice position of unfettered abortion access. In other words, the overwhelming majority of Americans are not “insolent opponents” of the pro-life cause. So, then, how should the church proceed?

The apostle Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22) and that “love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4), that it “is not arrogant” (v.4), “does not act unbecomingly” (v. 5), and it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (v. 7). The fruit of the Spirit, Paul also says, is “peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is how we proceed. By walking in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) and bearing his fruit, we perform this needed work with love, kindness and gentleness, patiently enduring hardships, and hoping for the day when abortion becomes illegal and unthinkable to all Americans all across this country.

We will not be able to strongarm those with conflicted views on abortion over to “our side.” Instead, we’ll make friends with our neighbors and engage in meaningful conversations with them across our dinner tables. We’ll involve ourselves in our local communities and local schools, building relationships with peers and local leaders. We’ll open our homes to those who need care, whether friends or neighbors or those in our community group. And because we’re keeping in step with the Spirit, we’ll resist the temptation to caricature the people whose views on abortion deviate from our own. If we hope to see these numbers tick closer to the pro-life side of this issue – and I know we do – it won’t happen by force, but by love and good deeds, and the power of the Spirit.

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