Legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation has become a top priority for pro-lifers in 2013. In the past few years, at least 10 states have passed such bans. The debate over a 20-week abortion ban in Texas – signed by Governor Rick Perry – received nationwide attention this June. Three separate national surveys indicated that these bans enjoy plurality support. Interestingly, each of these three surveys found that women are more likely than men to support a 20-week abortion ban. The polls also showed that the bans also enjoyed fairly broad support from young adults – even though young adults are less likely than other demographic groups to consider themselves “pro-life.”
However, last month Planned Parenthood published the results of its own survey on 20-week abortion bans. Many media outlets have been quick to use the results to raise questions about the popularity of such legislation. The results indicate that over 60 percent of respondents feel that abortion should be legal after 20 weeks if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Additionally, more than 60 percent felt that such abortions should be legal if carrying the pregnancy to term would cause long-term health problems for the woman. A majority felt abortion should be legal after 20 weeks in the case of several fetal abnormalities.
In actuality, the results of this survey fail to raise serious questions about the polls that came out this summer showing support for a 20-week ban. Survey research shows that many people are conflicted about abortion. Most Americans dislike abortion, would like to see fewer abortions, and feel comfortable with late-term abortion bans and other incremental pro-life laws. That having been said, a substantial body of polling data shows that Americans think abortion should be a legal option when a pregnant women is facing difficult circumstances. The recent Planned Parenthood poll simply shows that is the case even with later-term abortions.
For a variety of reasons, pursuing a 20-week abortion ban is good strategy for pro-lifers. The fact that there exists medical evidence that the unborn can feel pain at 20 weeks persuades many people to support such legislation. Furthermore, the fact that the unborn can feel pain could create an additional legal rationale – in addition to viability — that would allow states to provide protection to the unborn. That having been said, pro-lifers should not simply dismiss the results of this Planned Parenthood survey. It shows once more that in the abortion debate framing and messaging are always important. Pro-lifers would, as always, do well to be vigilant.