National Edition

New abortion poll oversimplifies complex issue, UCSF professor says

Published: Tuesday, July 30 2013 9:10 p.m. MDT

And gender divides were surprising. “More women than men supported the state bans, 46 percent to 40 percent,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “Even college-educated women, a group that strongly supports abortion rights, tipped toward favoring" restrictions that begin at 20 weeks. "Among that group, 62 percent said abortion should be legal, but only 40 percent opposed the 20-week bans, compared with 44 percent who backed a ban at 20 weeks.”

Youth and intensity

The relatively high numbers of “no opinion” in the WSJ/NBC poll are not entirely surprising, as the poll also found that abortion is a low policy priority for most Americans. Just 26 percent said it should be a high priority, while 72 percent saw it as a low or medium-level concern.

The lack of intensity on the issue has abortion rights advocates concerned and pro-life advocates hopeful. Both youth and intensity are on the antiabortion side, said Texas Right to Life legislative analyst Emily Horne.

Horne points to Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America until she stepped down last year, who cited the youth and intensity of the pro-life movement in explaining why she was looking for younger blood to replace her. Keenan had surveyed the 400,000 marchers in the annual March for Life, she told the Washington Post. "I just thought, my gosh, they are so young," Keenan said. "There are so many of them, and they are so young."

A 2010 Gallup poll found that youth aged 18-29 were slightly more likely than any other age group to oppose abortion in any circumstance, and slightly less likely than any group except seniors to favor abortion in all cases.

Nuanced dialogue

Horne and Weitz are both hopeful their positions might benefit from more direct dialogue on the real issues replacing oversimplified “drive-by” poll questions.

“The more education you get on some of the more extreme truths of abortion," said Texas Right to Life's Horne, "the more people really don’t like it. I think our mission has to be education, and education leads to more effective legislation.”

For her part, while Weitz recognizes that a nuanced conversation about abortion will sometimes not favor her preferred pro-choice position, she insists that being intellectually honest is the only way forward.

“I think we have empirical evidence that the dichotomous approach is not serving the pro-choice movement well,” Weitz said. Her view is that by defining the issue in black-and-white terms, the pro-choice side has left the policy debate entirely to their opponents.

“I think the pro-choice movement is having trouble breaking through to have a conversation with an American public that has a more nuanced position on abortion,” Weitz said. “They are more conflicted on it. They have a lot of questions. They want some regulation of abortion, but they don’t know what it is. The only people who are speaking to them are the folks who are putting forward regulations.”

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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