A U.S. pro-life leader says a new study showing alleged support for legalized abortion among Americans is in fact exaggerated and unclear.
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America,
told CNA that she was “outraged” by the “horrible” wording in the
survey, which led to misleading results about the views of Americans.
On Jan. 16, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a report
about American attitudes on abortion after 40 years of its legalization
throughout the country.
The report claimed that 63 percent of Americans do not want to see the
Supreme Court completely overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that
legalized abortion nationally.
However, the study has drawn criticism for its wording. Before being
asked about whether the decision should be reversed, survey participants
were told, “In 1973 the Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s
constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months
Hawkins explained that the question fails to acknowledge Doe v. Bolton,
which was decided by the Supreme Court alongside the Roe case and
effectively legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
This wording, Hawkins said, certainly skewed the results of the survey
from showing people’s complete views, as other studies have shown that
“the vast majority of people” are opposed to abortion in the second and
third trimester, even if they accept it in the first trimester.
In addition, she observed, the Pew survey asked people whether they
would like to see the court “completely overturn” its Roe v. Wade
decision or not.
She explained that giving only these two options fails to recognize the
reality – shown time and again by other studies – that the majority of
the country is in the “mushy middle,” somewhere between favoring a
complete ban of abortion and completely accepting it.
While the Pew survey found that the majority of Americans did not want
Roe v. Wade to be “completely” overturned, it also revealed that a
plurality – 47 percent – believe that abortion is morally wrong,
compared to just 13 percent who think it is morally acceptable.
This means that many people believe that abortion is morally wrong but
do not think that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, Hawkins observed.
She attributed this discrepancy to a general culture of relativism in
which people are taught that there is no objective right or wrong and
that they should not judge the actions of anyone else.
She noted that when asked about the morality of abortion, respondents
could say that they believed it to be morally acceptable or morally
wrong, but they were also given a third option of saying that they did
not believe abortion was a moral issue. Twenty-seven percent chose this
Hawkins said that this option does not make sense, because an action is either morally acceptable or it is not.
She added that she would be interested to see if those people actually
thought that abortion was immoral but did not want to acknowledge it
because they thought that doing so would come across as judgmental.
This fear of seeming judgmental is advanced by abortion groups such as
Planned Parenthood, which promote the message that no individual can
reject the actions of another as objectively wrong, even if those
actions kill a child, she explained.
In addition, she said, men have been told that “they can’t have an
opinion about abortion,” even though they can lose a child through one.
The pro-life movement must respond to this cultural relativism and fear
of seeming judgmental by fearlessly proclaiming the truth, speaking out
about how abortion hurts women and is never a good solution, she said.
One finding from the Pew poll that did not surprise Hawkins was the
significant level of ignorance surrounding Roe v. Wade, particularly
among young people. Of those under 30 years old, only 44 percent knew
that the case dealt with abortion.
“There is a wide gap of knowledge when it comes to abortion in the United States,” Hawkins explained.
She pointed to a study released by Students for Life last summer in
which 48 percent of respondents did not know whether Planned Parenthood
“People do not know what abortion law is,” she continued. “They just don’t know.”
At the same time, Hawkins said, human beings instinctively “know
there’s something wrong with abortion.” She observed that women often
cry as they enter and exit abortion clinics, and abortion is treated as
an emotional and intense decision.
In addition, she said, even a three-year-old child will point to an
ultrasound picture and identify the unborn child as a “baby.”
But despite this natural inclination that abortion is wrong, she
acknowledged that it is also unpleasant and many people “block it out of
their minds,” choosing not to think about it. For this reason,
education is critically important, she said.
Experience working on college campuses has shown Hawkins that if she
can get a conversation started with the students, they are open to the
truth about abortion.
They key, she explained, is getting the students to “engage in a dialogue with us.”
Given a clear presentation on the scientific facts and laws regarding
abortion, they are often convinced of the truth in the pro-life
position, she said, adding that these students talk to their friends,
and that is when “hearts and minds change on college campuses.”