Published February 8, 2007
Recent polls point to an emerging pro-life attitude among the American public, including the post-Roe generation of young adults.
“There has been an interesting series of polls … indicating that the American public tends to be pro-life,” said Deirdre McQuade, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. “People with a pro-life attitude don’t necessarily call themselves pro-life. But when you start asking questions about when abortion should be permitted, and break it down, it doesn’t map out the same as what Roe v. Wade has ushered in.”
According to Zogby International, which has tracked public opinion on many topics in many countries since 1984, a total of 56 percent of 1,209 respondents from across the nation agreed that either abortion should be illegal (18 percent) or that there should be limits on abortion (38 percent). These limits include making abortion legal only when the mother’s life is in danger (15 percent) or legal when the mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest (23 percent). Since abortions actually performed under these circumstances are “extremely rare,” the Zogby study suggests that a majority of Americans oppose “approximately 96 percent of all abortions.”
Also in the poll conducted in 2004, close to 51.6 percent of young adults, ages 18 to 29, called themselves pro-life, and 65 percent of them believe abortion should not be permitted once an unborn baby’s heartbeat begins (usually around day 21 of the first month).
“The Zogby poll is pretty remarkable,” said McQuade, who added that 71 percent of respondents to a 2006 Zogby poll disagreed that the Senate should confirm only pro-choice Supreme Court justices.
The Catholic Church proclaims the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to the occurrence of natural death.
McQuade also spoke on the complexity of using statistics associated with abortion and the subtle messages that can be sent in the wording of polls. She explained why the USCCB often uses statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, the polling organization most referred to by abortion advocates, as it allows the USCCB to speak the same language statistically, while sometimes interpreting differently what’s being said or what is needed.
A poll’s wording can send messages, too. McQuade cited one question in a 2005 poll by the Harris Institute that associated the phrase “up to three months of pregnancy” with the Roe decision. The phrase was used three times in the question that eventually asked participants if they favored or opposed “this part of the Supreme Court decision.”
McQuade explained, “They say ‘up to three months of pregnancy,’ which forms in a person’s mind that Roe is only about legal abortions to three months,” when, in fact, the Roe decision made abortion legal throughout a woman’s pregnancy.
McQuade also explained the results of a question in a 2006 Guttmacher Institute poll that sought to find the reasons why most women choose to have an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute listed the four most common reasons as follows: “three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with a husband or partner.”
“That was the end of the story (for abortion advocates),” McQuade said. “(Those who are pro-life would) say we’d need to reach out to the woman to be present with her in her need and that she should never have to resort to the most unnatural act (of abortion). Nothing necessitates abortion, even for extreme health cases. The doctor is always responsible for the care and health of the mother and baby. There are two lives.”
McQuade suggested that one look closely at the reasons for abortions cited by the Guttmacher Institute.
“You see a very different picture. There are a tremendous set of needs … that can be met as a church and by the broader community.”
She acknowledged that church members must come together to do a better job of meeting these needs, emphasizing, however, that “abortion doesn’t solve anything.”
“It can’t undo a rape, it doesn’t provide sufficient money (for someone who is poor). … Pregnancy isn’t a disease. Abortion is not health care; it’s not therapeutic in any way.”
McQuade spoke of the effects of years of misinformation, often the result of a “very partial description of the truth,” about the Roe v. Wade decision. To gauge public knowledge of the Roe decision, the Susan B. Anthony List and the National Right to Life Committee commissioned a study by “the polling company, inc.” Results were released in 2006. While 65 percent of respondents said they were “total(ly) familiar” with the Roe v. Wade decision, only 29 percent responded accurately that the Roe decision allows for abortions to be performed at all stages of pregnancy.
To better educate Catholics and the public the USCCB continues to launch various media campaigns. One such effort that McQuade pointed to was the Second Look Project, which hopes “to encourage people who are thoughtful folks to engage in dialogue.” Along with radio spots, a Web Site (www.secondlookproject.org) presents items such as the entire Supreme Court manuscripts of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, as well as the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that “really confirmed that up to the moment of birth a baby could be aborted.” There is also a section on fetal development and a “Roe Reality Check” that lists 15 important facts about Roe v. Wade such as “The U.S. abortion rate is among the highest of all developed countries in the world” and “Even a child who is partially born can be legally aborted.” Visitors to the Web site can then click on each item for more details.
Information and formation are essential and many are noticing their effects. Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, reflected on the growing pro-life sentiment at the Vigil For Life Mass in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21.
In his homily, the cardinal from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia addressed those gathered, saying, “There is a growing realization that human life and human dignity cannot be suppressed without immense damage to the entire fabric of our nation and numerous consequences.”
He concluded by saying, “Dear young people … you are called to fulfill a special role: to bring all your energy to promote the cause of life. The Lord is calling you and confirming you in strength. The church and the nation are asking you to rise up to this challenge.”