However the “pro-life” tag for all those anti-women’s-rights people came to be co-opted, it was a stroke of genius. It is, of course, more devious than truthful. Anti-abortion forces, as this space has raged about from time to time, piously support the life of a fertilized egg, while ignoring the lives of mature women. But the loaded label is firmly set.
Most recently, a Gallup poll has brought it to the forefront once more. That poll, released early this month, showed that slightly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” (47%) than “pro-choice” (45%.) The figures are about the same as shown in a similar poll last July, though the pro-life leanings are actually weaker than the percentages a year ago (51% to 42%.) Writer Amanda Marcotte, blogging at RH Reality Check, argues that the poll numbers don’t reflect the political strength of pro-choice Americans. Rather, she says,
the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance. This becomes only clear when you consider that pro-life activists tend to follow the lead of the Vatican (even if they’re Protestant) and object to all forms of fertility control that offer women a reasonable amount of control over their own bodies.
Marcotte interviewed Jessica Grose, whose article on Slate.com about the poll also questioned whether the pro-life numbers reflect a trend against women’s choice, or might be attributable to other factors. Republicans not wanting to be counted as pro-choice because it might align them with Democrats, or Obama; the general movement of Gen Y away from pro-choice. Grose does not, in the long run, see the poll numbers as a voice of doom.
The notion that more and more Americans are embracing the pro-life label is pretty terrifying for pro-choicers. But what does it really mean to call yourself pro-life or pro-choice? Do the labels actually track people’s views about the legality of abortion? The answer may be yes, but not in a simple or neat way. Though more people are calling themselves pro-life, the percentage of Americans who say abortion is morally wrong is down six points from last year. But at the same time, a Pew poll from last August showed that slightly more people are also saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, though the gain is only 1 percent from the previous September.
The upcoming Supreme Court nomination process could potentially shift things back to the pro-choice label. It’s not about Elena Kagan per se, but Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad says that when the abortion issue is raised in relation to the Supreme Court, the issue tends to help the pro-choice side—because, in the end, most people don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent data back up the second part—according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from April says that 58 percent of Americans still believe that Roe v. Wade was a good thing.
A hopeless optimist to the core, I wish I could join these wise observers in finding any glimmer of hope in the whole scene. From where I sit and what I know — and I am among the steadily dwindling few who know first hand the horrors that women faced pre-Roe v Wade — the hard core anti-abortionists are pulling every trick in the book to gain ground, and it’s working. If they ultimately do win, women will suffer an unfathomable loss.