By David N. O’Steen, Ph.D.
Two recent polls, one statewide and the other national, contain both encouraging news and a strong dose of reality for all of us trying to save the lives of unborn children.
The first, conducted statewide in Oklahoma by WPA Intelligence, February 14 -16, probed for what reasons Oklahomans thought abortion should be allowed and then the degree of support for legislation allowing abortion for only those reasons.
The poll found that:
85% of Oklahomans wanted abortion allowed to save the life of the mother,
85% wanted abortion allowed in case of a medical emergency posing serious risk of substantial, irreversible physical harm to the mother,
76% wanted abortion allowed in cases of rape reported to law enforcement,
82% wanted abortion allowed in case of incest with a minor reported to law enforcement.
It is significant that this strong support for these exceptions was found in a very conservative Republican state like Oklahoma.
Respondents were then asked if they would support allowing abortion only in those four cases; in other words, only to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest or medical emergency.
71% said yes, they would support allowing abortion only in those four circumstances with 54% agreeing strongly.
This strong majority support in the state of Oklahoma for allowing abortion only in those four cases, which comprise only about 5% of abortions, led National Right to Life to poll to see how those results compared with the nation as a whole.
The National Right to Life poll was conducted by McLaughlin and Associates between March 3 and March 6 and found strikingly similar results:
88% thought abortion should be allowed to save the life of the mother,
87% thought abortion should be allowed in case of a medical emergency posing serious risk of substantial irreversible physical harm to the mother,
82% thought abortion should be allowed in cases of rape,
81% thought abortion should be allowed in cases of incest.
Respondents were then asked if they would support allowing abortion only in those four circumstances: to save the life of the mother or in case of a medical emergency on in cases of rape or incest. 72% said yes with 51% strongly agreeing.
Of the 22% who said they opposed allowing abortion only in those four circumstances 66% did so because they wanted more abortions and 30% because they wanted fewer abortions.
The results were even more striking since the poll found that 52% identified as pro-choice as opposed to 45% pro-life. However, 68% of those who identified as pro-choice supported allowing abortion only in those four circumstances as did 65% of Democrats! Clearly much perceived support for abortion is due to those cases, which account for only about 5% of abortions.
These results, showing that 72% of the population would allow abortion only for reasons that comprise 5% of abortions, seem to fly in the face of recent experience. Since the Dobbs decision, states in conservative regions and/or with very well organized pro-life groups have approved referendums allowing abortion for any reason or soundly defeated pro-life referendums.
How can this happen?
The public overwhelmingly wants abortion available for the reasons cited in these polls. This support has not wavered in fifty years. Knowing this, the abortion industry, with its seemingly unlimited financial resources and the relentless support of the pro-abortion media, keeps the public debate focused on precisely these issues where they have such strong support: rape, incest, and maternal health emergencies, whenever those issues are left on the table for debate.
This poses a seeming dilemma for the pro-life movement. Do we insist that the law must prohibit essentially all abortions including rape and incest? Experience tells us that position means the fight will be on the very most favorable grounds for the pro-abortion side, and thus we will continue to lose, state by state. Or do we recognize that the law cannot be our statement of principle but, rather, is just one tool that can be used to save almost all babies from abortion? Other tools must be used to save those the protection of the law cannot reach.
Those tools can include increased public resources to support adoption, the expansion of pro-life pregnancy resource centers, and both new and/or strengthened private and public programs to reach out to and aid rape or incest victims and save their babies.
Is it abandoning some babies to save the 95% we can save through the law, while using other means to save those the law cannot?
Or is it actually abandoning all babies to insist on a legislative strategy that saves none of them?
It is noteworthy that a heartbeat bill without exceptions causes almost no controversy within the pro-life movement. Rather it is applauded when passed into law as a very worthwhile achievement, as indeed it is. Statistics show us that heartbeat laws can save about 50% of potential abortion victims since about 50% of abortions are performed before six weeks of pregnancy when the child’s heartbeat is detectible. So, it clearly defies logic to oppose a measure with only the exceptions listed in the polls above which can save 95% of babies from abortion, while supporting a measure with “no exceptions” which can save 50%.
Sustainable legislation allowing abortion only in the cases discussed above, coupled with a renewed emphasis on alternative measures directed in particular at saving children conceived by rape or incest, can show us a winning way forward for life. Otherwise, many, many, many more babies will continue to die.