When it comes to abortion, which political party's views are more extreme?
Unless you've spent the past week as a stowaway on NASA's new Mars rover, the approved media answer is obvious: Republicans are the abortion fanatics. Between the furor over Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" gaffe and the GOP platform language calling for a constitutional amendment to undo Roe v. Wade, the Republicans have revealed themselves to be -- so The New York Times editorialized on Wednesday -- "on the most extreme fringes of American opinion."
The platform's silence on any exemptions for rape or incest, which critics swiftly dubbed the "Akin plank," particularly stoked the flames. The GOP, declared Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, believes in "making rape victims bear their rapist's baby." The Boston Globe splashed a six-column headline across the top of Page 1: "GOP plank opposes all abortions." The views held by Republican leaders, Michael Tomaskey wrote at the Daily Beast, "are not anywhere close to being on the normal political scale."
Even some Republicans piled on. The party's former chairman, Michael Steele, told an interviewer that omitting rape and incest exceptions from an abortion ban would be "way outside [the] mainstream of American thought."
Which is true. Pollsters have been asking Americans for decades whether and under what circumstances they think abortion should be restricted. Only about 1 in 5 respondents ever say that abortion should always be illegal. When asked directly whether abortion should be permitted if a pregnancy results from rape or incest, huge majorities – usually around 75 percent – say yes.
Moreover, only a minority of Americans favors amending the Constitution to end legalized abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade. In poll after poll, about 6 in 10 Americans express support for Roe. A GOP platform that endorses a human life amendment conferring on the unborn "a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed" – essentially a call to ban abortion, period – thus embraces a position that significant majorities of the public do indeed reject.
So Republicans are the extremists on abortion? Not so fast.