Poll Suggests Americans Remain Divided on Abortion

A new CNN/ORC International Poll is out and it’s providing ammunition for those on opposite sides of the abortion debate. Abortion rights advocates say the poll results confirm that Americans overwhelmingly favor abortion. Pro-life advocates say the same poll shows that Americans oppose abortion.

As it turns out, both sides are right – or wrong – depending on how the poll numbers are interpreted.

CNN/ORC asked respondents, “Do you think abortion should be legal under any circumstances, legal under only certain circumstances or illegal in all circumstances? Some 25 percent said abortion should be legal under any circumstances, compared to 21 percent that said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

From afar, there appears to be a 4 percent gap between those who support abortion on demand versus those who would ban abortion entirely. But the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. That means the opposing sides are in a statistical dead heat.

The reason both sides can claim to represent the majority of Americans is that 53 percent of poll respondents say that abortion should be legal under only certain circumstances.

That allowed the abortion rights camp to say, correctly, that 78 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under at least some circumstances. It also allowed the pro-life community to say, also correctly, that 62 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under most or all circumstances.

Drilling deeper into the poll’s abortion question, its wording may have pushed respondents into an answer suggesting they are more supportive of abortion than they truly are.

In fact, many Americans who consider themselves pro-life are willing to accept abortion in rare cases of rape or incest, or when a mother’s life is at risk.

They would be included among the 53 percent of the poll’s respondents who said that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. They also are included among the Americans whom abortion rights advocates claim are steadfastly “pro-choice.”

Perhaps the best barometer of how the American people truly feel about abortion is whom they vote for to represent them at the state level, where the battle between abortion rights advocates and the pro-life community is currently being waged.

In the first six months of this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, states enacted 80 new abortion restrictions. That was more than double the previous record of 34, enacted in 2005, and more than triple the 23 enacted last year.

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