Daniel Doherty

Yes, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that a majority of Americans want more restrictions on late-term abortion, but at the same time they also oppose legislation that would make it harder for women to terminate a pregnancy (via the Washington Post):

By a margin of 56 to 27 percent, more Americans say they’d prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than the 24-week mark established under current law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Another 10 percent surveyed in the poll volunteered they would prefer to outlaw abortion in the United States altogether or limit it earlier than 20 weeks after fertilization. At the same time, however, 54 percent say they oppose state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate; compared to 45 percent who support such legislation. (See graphic below for a breakdown of results, and here for interactive polling data).

The findings come as lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in states across the country are pushing to ban abortions earlier and impose new requirements that make it harder for abortion clinics to operate. Under the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision abortions can be performed until the point when an individual doctor determines a fetus’s viability, which is generally defined as up to 24 weeks of gestation. After that point, the government can prohibit the procedure so long as it provides safeguards for the mother’s health and well-being.

The poll suggests that significant support exists for banning abortions earlier in a woman’s pregnancy, but far less for instituting onerous restrictions for abortion providers.

The truth is that I don’t think this particular survey necessarily proves America is becoming increasingly pro-life. Roe v. Wade is still broadly popular.

Here’s an important tidbit:

More broadly, overall support for legal abortion remains stable,with 55 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. That finding is similar to a 2012 Post-ABC poll and surveys in recent years.

The poll was conducted July 18 to 21 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results from the full poll have an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.

The good news is that polling trends generally seem to show that Americans want more restrictions on late-term abortion. So this is where the fight for life must be waged. The example I always like to give is that when British abolitionists wanted to end slavery in the eighteenth century, they didn’t call for banning slavery as an institution outright. This was too delicate a matter and politically impossible given slavery’s widespread appeal and near-universal acceptance. Instead, they highlighted the brutality and inhumanity of the slave trade. By raising awareness about the appalling conditions human beings were subjected to on their interminable voyages westward across the “Middle Passage,” abolitionists were able to bring attention to the evil of slavery itself. The same is true with abortion. Only by bringing attention to the callousness of late-term abortion can the pro-life community ever hope to change hearts and minds about the violence and destruction of abortion itself.

History, at times, can be a very usual guide -- especially when defending the innocent and fighting for human rights.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, an NBC/WSJ poll released today -- unlike the WaPo/ABC survey above -- shows that Americans generally speaking are much more evenly divided on the issue of abortion:

On the broader issue of abortion, Americans continue to be split. Forty-nine percent believe abortion should be legal either always or most of the time, while 48 percent say it should either be illegal with exceptions or banned outright.

Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography