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Poll Shows Strong Support for Roe v. Wade as Both Sides Embrace New Tactics

Poll Shows Strong Support for Roe v. Wade as Both Sides Embrace New Tactics

January 22, 2013 — Forty years after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that barred laws outlawing abortion, 70% of U.S. residents believe it should stand, although many favor abortion restrictions under certain circumstances, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the poll, 31% of respondents said abortion should always be legal, while 9% said it should always be illegal. Meanwhile, 23% believe abortion should be legal most of the time, but with some exceptions. Another 35% thought abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest and to save a woman's life.

The data show the highest level of support for Roe since polls began tracking the issue in 1989. According to the Wall Street Journal, the increase is largely the result of stronger support for Roe among Democrats, particularly Latinos and African-Americans, as well as a slight increase in support among Republicans (Radnofsky/Jones, Wall Street Journal, 1/22). According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the findings show that the media's typical portrayal of Latinos as socially conservative is inaccurate. For instance, a poll by NLIRH and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project found that 74% of Latino registered voters think that a woman has a right to make her own decision about abortion without government interference (Sánchez, NBC Latino, 1/22).

Changing Tactics

The findings also underscore the fact that many Americans' views on abortion are not absolute, which has forced activists on both sides of the debate to embrace new tactics, according to the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, 1/22).

Although reproductive-rights supporters have an ally in President Obama, in many ways, the heart of the battle is at the state level, according to the National Journal (Reinhard, National Journal, 1/22). States passed 92 abortion restrictions in 2011, and an additional 43 restrictions passed last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute (Wall Street Journal, 1/22).

"The front lines of defending [abortion] rights are really in the state capitols, while there's a bit of a stalemate on reproductive issues at the federal level," said Anna Scholl, director of ProgressVA, adding, "The states are where the decisions that affect women ... are really happening" (National Journal, 1/22).

Abortion-Rights Advocates' Strategy

Kirsten Moore, former executive director of RHTP, said she has consulted with focus groups and experts on a new abortion-rights strategy. "If we are willing to acknowledge the complexity of the issue, ... then we think we can have a conversation with the people in the middle and help them resolve that conflict in a pro-choice direction," she said.

Abortion-rights supporters also are attempting to frame abortion as a "decision" rather than a "choice." Last week, Planned Parenthood released an online video stating that abortion is "not a black and white issue" and that the labels "pro-choice" and "pro-life" can "limit the conversation" (Wall Street Journal, 1/22).

In addition, dozens of legal challenges have been filed in state and federal courts to fight the record numbers of abortion restrictions being passed at the state level. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, there are "a lot of states that are just one clinic away from having no services altogether," adding, "I think the next couple of years are going to be critical" (Wolf, USA Today, 1/19).

Abortion-Rights Opponents' Strategy

Abortion-rights opponents, meanwhile, have largely embraced the strategy of chipping away at abortion access through federal and state legislation, rather than focusing on overturning Roe, the Wall Street Journal reports. Many of the measures focus on aspects of abortion that are the most controversial, such as abortion later in pregnancy or abortion based on the sex of the fetus.

At the state level, abortion-rights opponents have passed measures requiring abortion clinics to maintain certain staffing levels or adhere to hospital-like standards, which increases operating costs for abortion providers.

"I don't need a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe," said Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest, adding, "Clinic regulations do actually challenge Roe" (Wall Street Journal, 1/22).

Abortion-rights opponents also have borrowed strategies from the National Rifle Association, according to Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. Similar to the NRA, antiabortion-rights groups monitor lawmakers' abortion-related votes and highlight them during election season (Smith, Politico, 1/21).