A Lesson in Pro-Choice Statistics

17 Oct

A recent poll revealed that the majority of Americans (78% to be exact) believe that abortion should be legal. Before you get all giddy, like I did when I first heard about the poll results, that 78% statistic needs to be broken down based upon when Americans believe abortion should be legal. According to the CNN poll:

25% – abortion should be legal under any circumstances
12% – abortion should be legal in most circumstances
41% – abortion should be legal in a few circumstances
21% – abortion should be illegal in all circumstances

Even when you look at the numbers broken out like this, it’s reassuring to see that only 21% of Americans believe that abortion should be completely illegal. True, I wish that there were more of us in the “legal under any circumstance” camp – but we need to take a deep breath and try to remember that the antis do not have us outnumbered.

Part of the challenge for the pro-choice community is that many pro-choice people don’t speak up about their beliefs. And who can blame them? It’s difficult to voice your opinion when people on the anti-choice side of the debate yell, hold up grizzly posters, and spew utter nonsense. It isn’t a conversation that’s even worth engaging, because at the end of the day, no one is going to change their opinion about anything.

I’m not that surprised about the 78% statistic, though. When I was a clinic escort, I frequently had women swear to me that they were “pro-life” as they entered the clinic – but they just couldn’t continue their pregnancy. I always assured them that it didn’t matter what they believed, they were welcome at the clinic. If you take time to unravel the 78% statistic, I would be willing to bet that many of the people who spoke the CNN pollsters were some of these same women – they’re part of that 41% group who believes that abortion should be legal when it comes to their own uterus.

There’s bound to be some mathematical mumbo jumbo that I’m missing – it’s been a few years since I took a stats class. But even with a margin of error, or whatever you call it, there’s something very straightforward about the numbers – the people who shout the loudest are not the ones who are on the right side of public opinion.


6 Responses to “A Lesson in Pro-Choice Statistics”

  1. Amy October 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Excellent breakdown, Serena.

    I think we need to see statistics like this more often. It’s so true that the craziest people yell the loudest in this country, so it’s sometimes hard to remember that the public isn’t comprised largely of Operation Rescue types and the Westboro Baptist Church.

    Most of us are reasonable people who understand that we’re not the ones who should be making other people’s choices, and the problem is that voice doesn’t make for good headlines or B-roll.

  2. Odile October 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Actually this information is vague and misleading. The way you interpret the numbers depends wholly upon your point of view. If I was pro life I could extrapolate information from this poll that leads me to believe that 62% of people are in favor of abolishing elective abortions, the exception being made for therapeutic abortions to save the life of the mother. Obviously, Serena has interpreted from the pro choice perspective. To obtain an accurate indication of where the debate stands, would require more specific questions. The number that appears to have trended the most (down) is the “legal in any circumstance” group. On a perfunctory glance, everything else seems to have remained fairly consistent. The poll seems pretty useless as far as gaining real insight, due to the generalized and non-specific question. I think Gallup has done a much better job on the polling:


    Of particular note, the “morality” question (51% immoral – 39% moral), and the “summary of circumstances” (61% few/none – 39% all/any). Gives you a little better idea. The “summary of circumstances” number would line up more closely with the pro life spin that I mentioned above. Just saying.

  3. freewomyn October 19, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Odile, thanks for sharing the link to the Gallup website. I think their poll numbers still confirm some good things – the majority of Americans feel that abortion should be legal, regardless of how they feel about the morality question.

    I think you have a point about evaluating stats from a pro-choice or a pro-life point of view. Nothing is objective – we all interpret information based on our own beliefs.

  4. Odile October 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    The morality question may be subjective. However, the “summary of circumstances” is rather telling. 61% of Americans are saying that abortion should be legal only in a few circumstances, or under no circumstance. This is clearly a majority, and could be interpreted as the majority of Americans are against abortion on demand, i.e. elective abortions. I would guess there are many people in the pro life camp who would support a therapeutic abortion in the case of ectopic pregnancy, or a pregnancy that was emergently and immediately threatening the physical life of the mother, thus accounting for the ‘few’ circumstances. This would be consistent with the “morality” question majority response being fairly close to the “circumstance” question. The end result if the number trends upward, could be the curtailing or criminalizing elective abortions. The legality of therapeutic abortions in the above mentioned circumstances has really never been questioned.

  5. Serena October 20, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Odile, I guess we can just agree to take a different view of the numbers.

    One thing that I want to respond to is your use of the term “elective abortion.” I think that phrase feeds into the myth that women just go about having abortions willy nilly. Calling the abortion “elective” implies that there was no thought process and no emotional process put into the decision. And then calling abortions that are based on serious health care issues as “therapeutic” reinforces that binary again by using such a positive term – as if these are the only correct abortions.

    It doesn’t matter why a woman has an abortion – health of the mother, rape, can’t afford a baby, health of the fetus – all of these reasons are legit reasons to have an abortion.

  6. Odile October 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm #


    It was not my intention to imply anything with the term ‘elective’. I was using clinical terms, and in clinical terms, I described the differences in the types of abortion accurately, and it was an effort to explain some of the nuances of the polling data.

    While I understand fully the ramifications of such a personal and emotional decision on a woman’s life, I think that proponents of abortion would do well to supply women with the best clinical information in order to prevent the potential for a less than desirable aftermath. Women shouldn’t hate themselves, suffer needless regret, or even second guess themselves for the decisions they make.

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