Opposition to abortion not necessarily about the law

William McGurn:

During the health-care summit earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden was roundly mocked for saying, "I don't know what the American people think." He was, however, showing a refreshing modesty. Especially when compared with those who believe the American people don't know what they think—or cannot possibly mean what they say when they tell us what they do think.

Gallup provoked some of this reaction when it released new data early last month on American attitudes toward abortion. Asked to rate various behaviors and social policies (e.g., embryonic stem-cell research, adultery, the death penalty) as either "morally wrong" or "morally acceptable," 50% called abortion wrong, as against only 38% who said it was acceptable. Even more contentious was the finding, for the second year in a row, that slightly more Americans consider themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice" (47% to 45%).

The response to this data has been illuminating. Some blame the shift toward pro-life self-identification on abstinence-only education. Others imply that Americans really can't mean what they say, pointing to other data showing majorities in favor of keeping abortion legal.


Now, let's concede the critics their strongest point: It's true that most Americans want abortion to remain legal. Not only that, the numbers suggest that at least some of those who describe themselves as pro-life nonetheless do not support making abortion completely illegal.

Seldom, however, do the same critics delve much further than this. Possibly that's because they would find that while most Americans may not want abortion illegal, the majority in every age group want it legal, as Gallup phrased it, "only under certain circumstances."

Lydia Saad, a senior editor for Gallup, puts it this way. "On the one hand, the majority of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and think abortion should be legal in at least a few circumstances. On the other, most Americans favor legal restrictions on abortion that go way beyond current law."

The alleged contradiction between the moral and legal is often cited as evidence that Americans are fundamentally confused on abortion. But maybe Americans are not quite as confused as some think. Surely it does not violate logic for Americans to regard abortion as an evil, while also regarding it, in certain circumstances, as a necessary evil, or the lesser of two evils.


There is more.

I think people should handle the reproductive process in such a way that an abortion would never be needed. Where through no fault of their own, their is a pregnancy then they should have legal recourse to an abortion if they so choose. But the indiscriminate use of abortion as a birth control device is morally repugnant.


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