There’s good news and bad news for abortion rights advocates in a new Gallup poll. The good news, which is the lede that Gallup chose for the survey, is that Americans’ views on abortion rights have remained relatively unchanged as the highly-charged Kermit Gosnell murder trial has played out. One surprising result from the poll is that, even though conservatives agitated loudly and successfully for the mainstream (mainly television) media to cover the trial, an overwhelming 61% majority of Republicans say they’re not following the case closely, or at all. The bad news is that support for abortion rights is qualified, and weak.
Both sides of the abortion debate have claimed the Gosnell case as a cautionary tale that cuts in their own favor, with pro-choicers pointing out that restricting access to abortions enables butchery, like that of which Gosnell is accused, to thrive, and the anti-abortion rights crowd attempting to conflate Gosnell’s alleged crimes with legal abortion. According to Gallup, to the extent it has made any difference, the Gosnell case has been a wash in the abortion debate:
Current views on the legality of abortion, based on Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 2-7, are nearly identical to those from Gallup’s prior measures in December and May 2012. More generally, they are similar to what Gallup has found for most of the past decade, except for a brief period between 2005 and 2006, when the balance of the two absolutist positions tilted more heavily in favor of abortion being legal in all circumstances.
The poll also found that very little attention is being paid to the case, with only 7% of adults paying very close attention to the case, versus 54% who are not following it at all. Republicans are following the case most closely, but only 40% said they were following it “somewhat” or “very” closely, while 18% said they were following it “not too closely,” and 43% were not following it at all. Among all adults, 21% said the media were covering the Gosnell case either too much or the right amount, while 21% said it wasn’t receiving enough coverage.
While 77% of Americans favor legal abortion in some circumstances, the breakdown of that support is somewhat disturbing for abortion rights:
Gallup poses a follow-up question of respondents who opt for the middle position — those saying abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances” — asking if it should be legal in most or in only a few circumstances. The responses break nearly 3-1 in favor of the more restrictive policy.
The resulting distribution of views shows 26% of Americans favoring legalized abortion under any circumstances, 13% favoring legality under most circumstances, 38% favoring it in only in a few circumstances, and 20% saying it should be illegal in all circumstances.
Even among Democrats, only 54% support legal abortion under all, or most, circumstances, while 31% only in a few circumstances, and 12% saying it should be illegal in all circumstances. The poll doesn’t specify what those circumstances are, but the “only in a few circumstances” probably include rape, incest, and the life or health of the mother (if you’re a Republican, they also include “if your mistress gets knocked up”), making legal abortion the exception rather than the rule.
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