WASHINGTON — Beneath the pro-life/“pro-choice” divide in the U.S., there is a significant consensus favoring abortion restrictions, according to a new Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus.
“Although the issue is often a very polarizing issue politically, what we found is that it is not a polarized issue,” Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, said at the National Press Club on Jan. 19, announcing the poll results. More than 1,600 adults nationwide were surveyed between Nov. 15 and 22 by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion. The margin of error for the poll was 2.4 percentage points.
“The debate is too often reduced to the percentage who identify with the labels ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’” said Patrick Kelly of the Knights of Columbus and executive director of the St. John Paul II National Shrine.
“What we have found each year is that the split over the labels masks a very real consensus: a consensus of Americans who favor substantial restrictions on abortion; a consensus who sees abortion as morally wrong and ultimately harmful to women,” he added.
The Knights released the poll results on Tuesday in advance of the Jan. 22 national March for Life, remembering the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that decided a woman’s legal right to have an abortion.
More than 80% of poll respondents, including almost two-thirds of identified “pro-choice” respondents, supported limiting abortions to the first trimester of pregnancy. This high level of support has remained about the same since 2008, when the Knights conducted their first poll on this issue.
That number is “the real story,” noted Andrew Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning for the Knights of Columbus, at the National Press Club. It is a “much better metric in terms of where the American people are than simply terms like ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice,’” he said.
While polls like Gallup might reveal how many Americans identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” the Marist poll has “gone deeper” and explored public opinion on various positions, Carvalho explained.
Pro-life and pro-choice respondents showed consensus on other positions too. Sixty-eight percent overall opposed public funding of abortions with tax dollars, and 51% of pro-choice respondents supported that.
While it is illegal for federal tax dollars to pay for elective abortions, recent heightened scrutiny has led to efforts to block federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. A defunding bill passed both the House and Senate as part of a budget bill that was vetoed by President Obama.
In the poll, 61% supported an abortion ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger — a position that 62% of pro-choice respondents supported. The U.S. House passed a 20-week abortion ban in May, but the effort failed in the Senate in September.
Fifty-five percent said that abortion “ultimately does a woman more harm than good,” compared to just 30% who disagreed. Sixty percent of respondents said abortion is “morally wrong.”
“The real debate over abortion is not an intractable one over labels that correspond to hardened positions,” Kelly said. “Rather, it is a broad and often overlooked consensus in favor of substantial restrictions on abortion.”
Millennials also supported pro-life positions, although not as much as everyone else. Seventy-six percent favored restricting abortions to the first trimester, about two-thirds opposed taxpayer funding of abortions, and 62% supported a 20-week abortion ban.