From the way that abortion is talked about in the media — namely, constantly and vociferously — one could not be blamed for thinking that the issue is something Americans fret about constantly, one that they envision starkly in terms of black and white. According to a recent Gallup poll, however, that's far from the case: when asked what the most important problem facing the country is, only one percent mentioned abortion.
At The Atlantic, Karlyn Bowman and Jennifer Marsico point out that the low rate of Americans gravely concerned about abortion isn't new — historically, "it's rarely been higher." And, though Americans have radically shifted their views about other controversial issues (such as gay marriage and marijuana legalization) since the 1970s, their stances on abortion have remained steady:
Take a question that Gallup has asked more than 50 times since 1975: Should abortion be legal in certain circumstances? That year, 54 percent said yes. When CNN's pollsters asked the same question in May 2013, 54 percent gave that response, with 20 to 25 percent at the extremes.
Interestingly, polls show that abortion is a topic about which Americans feel significant cognitive dissonance: many simultaneously believe that it's an act of murder but also that it's a private decision between a woman and her doctor. One poll by the Public Religious Institute finds that 43 percent of Americans identify as both pro-life AND pro-choice. The Atlantic notes that such people tend to "pull away from abortion controversies in the news because pro-life and pro-choice activists don't represent their own complex views." Most Americans don't think that all abortion is sinful, unforgivable baby-killing, but they're also uncomfortable with the procedure and would like to see more restrictions put in place. While that's certainly not ideal, it's far better than the vision we get from the media landscape — and it's far more complex than zealous anti-choice legislators have recognized.
Three days ago, The New York Times reported that "abortion is becoming an unexpectedly animating issue in the 2014 midterm elections." Even though statistics show that 99 percent of Americans have bigger concerns, it's become a rallying point for Democrats and Republicans alike — Democrats are pointing out that Republicans have waged war on women's health and freedom; conversely, Republicans are doing this bizarre thing in which they attempt to frame abortion restrictions as fiscal conservatism. It seems that the latter party is well aware that their fervid attempts to take women's bodily autonomy from them has, well, made them look anti-woman, but they're still unwilling to give up the good, fetus-savin' fight. But they should. As much as conservatives may try demonize and distort the reality of abortion, the fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans see (and historically have seen) it in a more nuanced light.
Regardless of how most Americans feel, though, the fact remains that 70 different anti-choice restrictions were adopted in 22 states in 2013 alone. Those who feel alienated by the abortion debates, those who don't consider abortion when casting their votes and don't follow news about it, are passively allowing the pro-life fanatics to enact harmful restrictions and gradually erode the rights afforded to women 50 years ago. It's good to know that rabid anti-choicers are truly rare — but extremely loud — birds. Now we just have to work on preventing them from perpetrating the false idea that their fringe opinions are common sense.
Image via AP.