A political science professor brings us a valuable reminder today, at what promises to be the start of a very long and deeply annoying campaign season: most Americans have pretty similar ideas about abortion. They broadly think it should be legal, especially in cases where a pregnant person’s life is at risk. No matter what your thirsty candidates tell you, that remains true.
Vowing to outlaw abortion or make it really, really hard to get is a popular platform for conservative candidates, especially the ones who will never get elected and are mostly auditioning for a spot on Fox News. They also like to make it sound like they’re taking a common and moderate position, the one that most good and decent and God-fearing Americans hold.
Take Carly Fiorina, who in an interview with ABC that was lauded by anti-abortion website LifeNews said that most Americans hate abortion, just like her:
You know, the majority of young people and women now believe that abortion after five months is problematic, so even on that issue, there is an opportunity to find common ground if we will have a reasonable conversation instead of just hurling vitriolic sound bites at each other.
“Problematic” is a good word, in that it means nothing at all. As UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck points out on the New York Times’ Upshot blog, very few Americans (12 percent or so) think abortion should “never be legal” under any circumstances, according to a 2012 survey by the American National Election Studies (A.N.E.S.), one of the largest polls of public opinion. Most people—70 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats—believe that abortion should be legal if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk. Most Americans also don’t agree with sex-selective abortion (although that’s relatively rare in the United States).
“It appears as if the giant party difference in abortion under any and all conditions is an artifact of the way the typical abortion survey question is constructed,” Vavreck writes. When you give specific scenarios, most Americans respond in basically the same ways.
Besides abortion having broad support among the American public, there’s also this: who the hell cares? Bodily autonomy is—or should be—a basic civil right. Abortion is legal for a reason: because it’s a needed, necessary and safe procedure. Pollsters can sway the numbers in how they ask the questions, but the underlying need for abortion to remain legal and accessible shouldn’t be up for debate. And yet, for the next few weary months, as always, that’s exactly what the people who want to be your president will be arguing about.
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