When Should Abortion Be Legal?

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You frequently hear news reports of some poll indicating that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Even when the poll is completely fair, though, what you often hear is a misleading summary.

Here are the results of a well-worded poll conducted by the Wirthlin Group in November of 1993. (The numbers are still generally valid -- how the polls results have changed over the years is the subject for another article.)

Here is the exact wording of the most interesting question, with the response:

Many people are interested in what the public thinks about abortion and the law. I am going to read seven statements and I'd like you to tell me which one most closely reflects your views on when abortion should be legal.

Abortion should never be legal 9%
Abortion should be legal only when the life of the mother is in danger 13%
Abortion should be legal only when the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape and incest 21%
Abortion should be legal only when the life or physical health of the mother is in danger, or in cases of rape, incest, or fetal deformity 25%
Abortion should be legal for any reason during the first three months of pregnancy 21%
Abortion should be legal for any reason during the first six months of pregnancy 2%
Abortion should be legal for any reason at any time during pregnancy 8%
Don't know or refused to answer 1%

Thus, we see that 22% of the population agree with Right to Life's position (life of the mother only) or would not allow even that exception. Only 8% agree with the NOW / Planned Parenthood / Bill Clinton position of any time, any reason. The rest take a sort of middle ground of abortion only for hard cases or early in pregnancy.

Considering that 68% believe abortion should be legal in, at most, certain hard cases, and these hard cases account for at most 7% of abortions (according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute), it follows that at least 68% of Americans would make at least 93% of abortions illegal.


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Poasted 16 Sep 2000

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