Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


In a poll of 1003 American adults conducted 10-13 May, Gallup found that a large majority of Americans think that ‘partial birth abortions’ ought to be illegal. In answer to the question,

Now I would like to ask your opinion about a specific abortion procedure known as "late term" abortion or "partial birth" abortion, which is sometimes performed on women during the last few months of pregnancy. Do you think that this procedure should be legal or illegal?

72% answered that they thought the procedure should be illegal. This is an increase since Gallup asked an almost identical question in October 2003, when a still very substantial majority of 68% opposed the procedure. The proportion advocating making the procedure legal declined from 25% to 22%, while there was also a decline of two percentage points among the undecided.

In a related trend, since October 1989, Gallup have been asking variations on this question,

Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe versus Wade decision concerning abortion, or not?

In the latest iteration, the same population nearly three quarters of whom wanted ‘partial birth abortion’ banned, only 35% wanted to see Roe v Wade overturned, a slight increase since last May, when it was 32%, but rather a more dramatic increase since January 2006, when it was just 25%. In fact, the proportion wanting Roe v Wade overturned has only once exceeded this month’s, in March 2002, when it was 36%. Indeed, with a ‘margin of error’ of ±3 percentage points, we can’t be sure that it isn’t actually higher now.

The 53% preferring the 1973 decision to stand in this month’s survey is actually the lowest ever, declining by a full 15 percentage points since March 2005 and 13 points just in the last sixteen months.

Still, the interesting discrepancy is between the huger majority opposing ‘partial birth abortion’ while only a little over a third wanted women’s right to choose overturned. Could it be something to do with the wording of the question? Isn’t ‘partial birth abortion’ a term coined by the anti-life movement specifically to make the procedure sound frightening? One can’t help wondering what kind of results we would have seen if the question were worded with one of the more conventional and less emotive terms for the procedure, like (intact) dilation and extraction or evacuation.

One of the crucial arguments I always like to make about the anti-lifers is that their concern for foetuses not only doesn’t extend to the parent(s), but to the child the foetus is to become. It is not important to them what kind of life that child will have or how long it will get to live, only that it is born, whatever the cost to the parent(s), to society as a whole, or to the child itself. That’s why I refuse to allow them to coopt the label ‘pro-life’. They are decidedly anti-life in every sense of the term and we might as well make them cop it.


  1. Many people are puzzled about why anti-abortionists call themselves "pro-life". This is especially the case since the Christian Right is also anti-contraception, pro-death penalty, pro-military, and viscerally hostile to anything which would improve the quality of life of the vast majority of society.

    The solution to this conundrum is that the Christian Right is using the word "life" in a very specialised way. For them, "life" is a process that stops at birth and takes up again after death. When looked at from this angle, everything falls into place.

  2. I think your interpretation fo the Christian Right's definition of life just about works, ABIM. But it's profoundly dishonest. After all, they claim life begins at conception and continues after death, there is this little lacuna between birth and death - the one everyone else calls life, that they don't mention. But that's ok in the deeply principled way the Christian Right has of giving themselves dispensation from things like the ten commandments.

    It reminds me of a joke (have I told you this one before?):

    Four old women are arguing about abortion. The Catholic woman asserts, 'Life begins at conception. There's no doubt about it.' The Aboriginal woman reckons, 'Don't be silly. Every woman knows that life begins at quickening.' The Protestant woman says, 'No, no, no! Nothing could be more obvious than that life begins at birth.' And the Jewish woman retorts, 'You've all got entirely the wrong end of the stick. Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.'