Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
A sizable majority of Americans – even those who self-identify as “pro-choice” – support restrictions on abortion, according to a new study of Americans' Opinions on Abortion. As over one hundred thousand citizens prepare to travel to the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life on Jan. 19, there are signs that attitudes are shifting, and that more Americans now recognize that the child in the womb is a human person deserving of protection.
The new study, which was released Jan. 17 by the Knights of Columbus and Marist Polls, reveals that 76 percent of Americans (92 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independent voters, and 61 percent of Democrats) believe there should be significant restrictions on abortion. And nearly eight in 10 Americans (78 percent, including 73 percent of those who claim to be pro-choice) believe that laws can protect both a pregnant woman and the life of her unborn child.
Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, insisted that an overwhelming majority of the American people want substantial limits on abortion. “This survey shows clearly,” Anderson explained,
“... that the 'pro-choice' label can no longer be assumed to be thought of as a partisan issue since majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans all agree that it should be substantially restricted. It is high time that our political debates reflected this national consensus and used it as a starting point.”
The Beginning of Life
When asked when does life begin, 72 percent of Republicans, 32 percent of Democrats, and 44 percent of Independents responded that life begins at conception. That number climbed after the first three months of gestation, with more than six in 10 Americans (62 percent) believing that life begins within the first three months of a woman's pregnancy.
Americans' opposition to abortion later in pregnancy (after the 20th week of gestation) has shifted from 59 percent in January 2017, to 63 percent in January 2018. Even among Democrats, a majority of whom are characteristically pro-abortion, there has been a positive change since last year, with 56 percent of Democrats now opposing abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, as compared to 49 percent just one year ago.
Is Life in the Womb a Scientific or a Religious Matter?
The K of C/Marist Poll reveals one reason for Democrats' continued support for abortion rights: Despite the testimony of researchers which shows that the newly created embryo in the womb is a unique individual with his or her own DNA, many Democrats still see opposition to abortion as merely a philosophical or religious belief. Among pro-choice supporters, 58 percent reject the claim that “human life begins at conception”; Democrats score nearly as high, with 55 percent. In contrast, 59 percent of pro-life Americans believe that life begins at conception.
Should You Be Forced to Support Abortion?
And one finding which some will find puzzling is that while a majority of Americans (56 percent) think abortion is morally wrong, and almost as many (54 percent) continue to think that those with moral objections should not be legally required to provide abortion services or insurance coverage, that statistic does not hold true for pro-choice or Democratic voters. Among Democrats, 53 percent believe that those with moral objections must provide abortion services or insurance; and nearly as many (51 percent) pro-choice citizens would require everyone, even those who oppose abortion on moral grounds, to provide abortion services or insurance.
With regard to federal spending, 40 percent of respondents who called themselves “pro-choice” and 43 percent of Democrats believed that Americans should not be forced to support abortion with their tax dollars. More than twice that number, 87 percent of pro-life Americans said that tax dollars should not be used to pay for a woman's abortion.
What About Genetic Abnormalities?
There is an encouraging shift, however, when considering a child who will have a genetic disorder such as Down syndrome. In that case, even pro-choice Americans lean toward protecting the unborn life. Nearly half (49 percent) of pro-choice Americans and 84 percent of pro-life Americans oppose abortion due to the child's potential disability.
Does Abortion Improve a Woman's Life?
In the long run, does abortion improve a woman's life? Or does it do more harm than good? On this point, 85 percent of pro-life Americans said that abortion is harmful in the long run. Fifty percent who identified as pro-choice and 44 percent of Democrats took the view that a woman's life would be improved by having an abortion.
The Marist Poll was conducted by telephone using both landline and mobile numbers. Respondents were adults 18 years of age or older, residing in the continental United States. There were two surveys: the first on Dec. 4-7, 2017, polled 1,267 individuals. The second, on Jan. 8-10, 2018, reached 1,350 respondents. The Marist Poll, which has been conducted annually since 2008, is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.