NOTE: This article is one of a series on the “top ten” accomplishments of the pro-life movement over the past 40 years since unborn children were stripped of their legal right to life by the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court rulings.
In 1995, the Gallup polling company asked Americans for the first time whether they consider themselves “pro-life” or “pro-choice” with respect to abortion. Only 33% answered “pro-life,” while 56% said they were “pro-choice.”
By 2002 the gap had tightened, and in 2009, Gallup reported a majority of 51% lining up under the pro-life banner, compared to 42% for pro-choice.
This trend has continued. In 2010 Gallup called the shift to the pro-life position “the new normal,” saying that their data suggests “a real change in public opinion.”
By 2012, the pro-choice number had dropped further, to 41%, a trend seen among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
What’s the reason for this “new normal”?
Gallup speculates that the “new normal” of more Americans saying they’re pro-life than pro-choice may be the result of the aggressively pro-choice policies of President Obama shifting people’s idea of what “pro-choice” means to the left.
But I think there’s much more to the story than that.
First, if Gallup’s right that people are linking the pro-choice label with a kind of pro-abortion extremism, that’s only thanks to our efforts in the pro-life movement. We’ve been showing what “choice” really means: dead babies and broken hearts.
At the same time, sidewalk counseling and the proliferation of pregnancy resource centers have shown the compassionate face of the pro-life movement.
The surge in the pro-life youth movement have played a part, too. Surveys now show young people are more pro-life than their parents.
But how pro-life are Americans?
So more Americans are saying they’re pro-life—but does that really matter? What does donning the pro-life label translate into “on the ground.”
Not much, according to some detractors. As one pro-choice blogger put it, “The anti-choice movement may be winning on labels, but they’re losing on the issues.”
“Who wouldn’t want to be ‘pro-life’?” they ask. Life’s a good thing, and nobody wants to say they’re “anti-life.” They also point to the fact that only a small minority of Americans support a total ban on abortion.
There’s something to this criticism. To a pro-life activist like me, being “pro-life” means opposing legal abortion in all cases. But only about 20% of Americans hold that view—and that’s been fairly consistent over the past 40 years.
Clearly, many of the people telling Gallup they’re pro-life don’t mean by that what we in the pro-life movement mean. But neither is it just a label.
Though only about a fifth of Americans think abortion should be banned outright, consistent majorities believe that abortion should be illegal at least some of the time.
Americans support legal restrictions on abortion like parental involvement, waiting periods, informed consent and bans on late term abortion.
But “pro-choice” champions like President Obama and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards can’t point to a single case in which they would say a woman should not have the right to choose abortion.
If that’s what it means to be “pro-choice,” no wonder people don’t want to say they’re in that camp.
Let’s work to make American’s more pro-life!
Still, there’s no denying the disconnect between people’s attitudes towards abortion and the way they cast their votes on Election Day—and probably in the way they respond when someone close to them is considering abortion.
Our challenge, then, is to build upon people’s desire to be called “pro-life,” and teach them what it really means to be pro-life: to build a society in which every unborn child’s life is valued and protected by law.