Gutiérrez: The national consensus on abortion
March 1, 2019
Some media and politicians like to tell us we are deeply divided, but there is much more agreement than they would have us think. Looking at recent polling data, I have found that most Americans agree that there should be stricter regulations on abortion access. Much stricter.
This may be a surprise because a lot of polling on abortion is misleading. Pollsters will divide the matter between those “in favor of legal abortion with some restrictions” and those “in favor of making abortion illegal.” The former category wins every time and by a large margin, but within it there is a significant diversity of positions.
For instance, in a June 2018 Gallup poll only 29 percent of Americans said abortion should be legal in all circumstances. To my surprise, a full-throated 18 percent said it should be illegal completely. Even more encouraging is that, though the majority want legalized abortion, 50 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances. When probed by Gallup about what they meant, respondents said it should be legal “‘only in a few’ rather than in ‘most’ circumstances.”
A Marist poll taken at the start of this year showed that 61 percent of self-identified “pro-choice” Americans would limit abortion to the first trimester. The pollsters concluded that 75 percent of Americans want greater restrictions. But one wouldn’t know that given recent legislation passed in some states.
For those who did not hear, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, championed and signed a bill that would provide legal access for women to have an abortion past the 24th week of pregnancy into the third trimester in order to protect the woman’s “life or health.” By “health” the state gives no definition, which means it could refer to mental or emotional health, which means any reason whatsoever. The bill also eliminated the requirement that a doctor perform the abortions. And the bill removed the possibility of charging an abusive husband or boyfriend of manslaughter if he causes the death of his partner’s unborn child.
New York already had some of the most permissive abortion legislation in the nation and with it the highest per-capita abortion rate. Now New York is the standard for what abortion activism looks like, and support for its new legislation will perhaps become a litmus test for Democratic nominees in upcoming elections. All of this is far outside the American mainstream, but it is part of a strategy.
An “Overton window” refers to a range of what is considered acceptable in public discourse. At the edges of the window, whether right or left, ideas are considered repulsive or extreme. In the middle of the window ideas are popular, common and eventually become policy.
The Overton window on abortion has shifted considerably, and it is no accident. On the left, the public discourse around abortion no longer argues that it is a tragic necessity for women’s progress. Rather, abortion is now touted as a moral good which should be paid for by American taxpayers and allowed, as a Democratic Virginia delegate recently said, up to the moment the woman in labor is dilating. By pushing the window so far to the left, the middle of the window and so what is acceptable for public discourse necessarily shifts left and along with it, so the activists hope, shifts public policy.
The reason for this strategy is because the political left sees the same trends I noted at the start of this column. America is far more pro-life than we think. We are not so divided, at least not on abortion, and we ought not allow the powerful to convince us otherwise.
Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.