Gallup, “Pro-Life” America & Culture Wars
Today, there are two interesting columns on the new Gallup poll showing that a record-low 41% of Americans self-identify as “Pro-Choice.” Just last July, 47% of Americans embraced the “Pro-Choice” label. Meanwhile, 50% of Americans call themselves “Pro-Life.” This stat is down just one-point from the record-high in 2009 of 51%.
Over at Washington Post’s On Faith, Ashley McGuire, a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, uses these new stats as a springboard to claim that Americans “especially young Americans are rejecting [abortion] with increasing disgust, and not just for religious reasons.” Giving herself a good ole pat on the back, McGuire concludes:
Yup. Here we come. Our marches may get measly coverage. We may be the pitied laughingstock of ‘sophisticated’ urban cocktail parties. We may champion the Cinderella of human rights issues.
But we are winning. And our cause is life.
Southern Baptist theologian Owen Strachan has also weighed in. Strachan is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
In his post titled “What it means That Only 41% of Americans are ‘Pro-choice'” Strachan writes about the new stats:
…this is a surprising development, a significant one. This means that the “culture war” has not been for naught….All the campus pro-life groups and silent protests and counseling at abortion clinics and legislative action and making of films like Bella and careful appointment of pro-life justices and, most importantly, prayer, has all been worth it. This is not to say that abortion is now illegal. It is not. But it seems that gains are being made.
Most notably, Strachan and McGuire BOTH neglect to reference the new stats in the SAME Gallup poll detailing the views of Americans toward the legality of abortion. Check ‘em out:
In light of this graph, what do the new “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” stats really mean? These stats seem fairly consistent. Ten years ago, 51% of Americans held that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Today, that number is 52%.
Ten years ago, 25% of Americans backed abortion rights under ANY circumstances. Today, that number is still 25%.
Ten years ago, 22% of Americans declared that abortion should be illegal in ALL circumstances. Today, that number is down to 20%.
The question begs, when Catholics like Ashley McGuire and Southern Baptists like Owen Strachan declare “WINNING,” what are they talking about? If the attitudes of Americans toward abortion rights is virtually unchanged, where’s the victory?
As a side note, I realize that theologians, columnists and commentators are not social scientists. But, McGuire and Strachan should have dealt with the entirety of the Gallup report rather than cherry-picking one particular finding that serves their ideological purpose. McGuire’s comments about Americans rejection of abortion just doesn’t jive with the findings of Gallup.
Even Gallup’s survey of Americans’ views on the morality of abortion are fairly consistent. Ten years ago, 38% of Americans said that abortion was morally acceptable. Today, that number is unchanged. Ten years ago, 53% of Americans said abortion is morally wrong. And today, that stat is two points lower, down to 51% of Americans.
The question that Strachan and McGuire ought to be asking is: what does it mean to be “pro-life”?
The stats suggest that quite a few Americans view supporting abortion rights under certain circumstances as compatible with being “pro-life.”
For 35+ years, a majority of Americans have rejected the extremes in this culture war, holding what I’ve called the Jimmy Carter position on abortion and abortion rights.
Perhaps the Jimmy Carter position now defines – more than ever – what it means to be “pro-life” in the United States!