By Deirdre A. McQuade
January 9, 2009
Year in and year out, regardless of the administration or party in power, many thousands of people journey to Washington, D.C. each January 22 for the March for Life. These pilgrims – along with millions across the country at local events – witness to the dignity of human life, protest the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, and pray for an end to abortion. Why has the pro-life witness remained so strong thirty-six years after Roe legalized abortion on demand?
A major reason is that Roe v. Wade does not represent the views of the vast majority of Americans. In fact, it reflects the personal position of only 9% of U.S. adults, and most Americans would ban abortion altogether or limit its scope.
Public opinion doesn't make something right or wrong. Direct attacks on innocent persons at any stage of life are fundamentally wrong and never justifiable. Catholics should give witness to the inviolable dignity of human life even if we stand alone. But polling continues to show that we are far from alone in rejecting the legal and moral distortions of Roe.
In December, the Pro-Life Secretariat at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a nationwide survey of 2,341 U.S. adults representing the general public. Conducted online by one of the nation's top pollsters, the poll found that four out of five surveyed (82%) think abortion should be illegal or restricted in some way.
Nearly half (49%) support extensive restrictions: 11% percent think abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, and another 38% would restrict abortion to the narrow circumstances of life endangerment, rape or incest – reasons that account for less than 2% of all abortions.
An additional 33% think abortion should be legal for any reason, but would limit it to either the first three or first six months of pregnancy. When added to the 49% above, this produces a total of 82% wanting to limit the legality of abortion. That's four out of five surveyed.
A mere 9% said abortion should be legal for any reason at any time during pregnancy. The remaining 9% declined to answer the question.
These findings are remarkable! Fewer than one in ten Americans support legal abortion for any reason at any time during pregnancy. But that is the current extreme state of the abortion license under Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton.
If you don't know Doe, then you don't know Roe. Our abortion law is so extreme partly due to Doe's overly broad definition of "health" as applied to Roe's requirement that laws against late-term abortions must have a health exception. According to Doe v. Bolton, maternal health includes "all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age – relevant to the well-being of the patient." The "health" exception swallows the rule. Thus, except for a very specific ban on the partial-birth abortion procedure, there are no meaningful abortion restrictions in our country.
Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.