An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released July 23 says that 71 percent of American voters believe that the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion should not be overturned. It follows a Gallup poll of July 12 that found that 64 percent say Roe should not be overturned.
Both surveys are deceitful: the "yes/no" simplified choices that respondents had to pick from fail to tap the extent to which the public really approves of the Supreme Court decision. That ruling permits abortion-on-demand, meaning it sets no restrictions on when or why abortion should be legal.
When respondents are asked whether abortion should be legal or illegal, in all likelihood the first thing that comes to mind are worst case scenarios. If it is illegal in every instance, that would mean that in cases involving rape, incest, or the death of the mother—however rare they are—abortion would not be permitted. This is what tugs at the conscience of respondents, and what explains their answer. Nevertheless, it is not an accurate picture of what this issue entails.
As I pointed out July 13, there was a Gallup poll released on June 11 that was more detailed, and therefore honest, on this subject. It asked whether abortion should be legal in all circumstances, just a few circumstances, or not at all. It found that 53 percent said abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances or in no circumstances. Therefore, a majority of the American people oppose Roe. But neither the survey company nor the media reported this fact.
What makes this particularly galling is that NBC/Wall Street Journal researchers know better. Here's the proof:
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released in 2013 found that seven in ten Americans believe Roe should stand (the same as today). However, when respondents were asked whether there should be any exceptions, here is what the survey found:
Always Legal: 31%
Legal Most of the Time: 23%
Illegal, With Exceptions: 35%
Illegal, No Exceptions: 9%
Those last three figures add up to 67 percent (2 percent were undecided).
The why question has been answered. Two out of every three Americans reject the unbounded reasons why abortion should be allowed, putting them squarely at odds with Roe. But the Wall Street Journal article on this survey (January 22, 2013) never mentioned this fact.
Now to the question of when. A Gallup poll released June 13, 2018 asked when abortion should be legal. Here is what it found (the numbers are rounded up):
Should be Legal in First Three Months of Pregnancy: 60%
Should be Legal in the Second Three Months: 28%
Should be Legal in the Final Three Months: 13%
In other words, support for abortion at any time during pregnancy, which is what Roe allows, is very thin.
Put together, the reasons why and when abortion should be allowed are at odds with the Supreme Court ruling in Roe.
It is no wonder that a Gallup poll released in 2015 found that only 34 percent of Americans were "satisfied" with current abortion policies; 48 percent were dissatisfied. That's a pretty big indictment of Roe.
Those seeking to make the case that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had better heed the public's support for Roe v. Wade need to stop misrepresenting the truth. Most Americans are conflicted on this subject. Most important, most do not accept what Roe permits.
Bill Donohue is President and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization. He was awarded his Ph.D. in sociology from New York University and is the author of seven books and many articles.