Pew survey on abortion attitudes criticized as misleading
By Michelle Bauman
Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life of America.
Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life of America.

.- 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 of pregnancy.”

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 response.

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 performed abortions.

“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.”

Tags: Abortion, Roe v. Wade

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