Forty-one percent of Americans identify themselves as pro-choice -- marking a drop of 6 percent since July and the lowest percentage since Gallup began asking the public in 1995 to self-identify as pro-choice or pro-life. The Gallup organization reported the dramatic downturn for pro-choice advocates Wednesday (May 23).
The same survey showed 50 percent of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, one point less than the record high, which was set in May 2009. The previous low of 42 percent for pro-choicers also came in the 2009 poll.
Pro-life leaders expressed no amazement at the trend -- which was demonstrated among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
"This is not just an American phenomenon," said C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Tennessee. "Now that imaging technologies offer us a clearer picture of what's happening in the womb, it is increasingly difficult to dehumanize the unborn person in a mother's body.
"Even in our fallen, fragile world, human life in all its stages gives testimony to the image of God," said Mitchell, a longtime consultant with Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List pro-life organization, said in a written statement, "It comes as no surprise that more Americans are shedding the 'pro-choice' label as they come to terms with what is really meant by this hollow branding.
"The big 'abortion liberates' … and those who promulgate it are becoming unmasked," Dannenfelser said.
In the breakdown by political identification, the poll showed:
-- Independents identifying as pro-choice dropped since May 2011 from 51 to 41 percent, while those labeling themselves as pro-life increased from 41 to 47 percent.
-- Republicans pro-choicers fell in the last year from 28 to 22 percent, while pro-lifers grew from 68 to 72 percent.
-- Democrats identifying as pro-choice decreased in the last 12 months from 68 to 58 percent, while those considering themselves pro-life increased from 27 to 34 percent.
While the survey demonstrated a noteworthy shift in Americans' self-identification as pro-life or pro-choice, it showed little change on the questions of the morality and legality of abortion, Gallup reported. The survey found:
-- 51 percent say abortion is "morally wrong," the same as in May 2011, and 38 percent say it is "morally acceptable," one point less than last year.
-- 52 percent say abortion should be legal "only under circumstances," a two-point increase in the last year, while 25 percent say it should be legal "under any circumstances" and 20 percent say it should be illegal "in all circumstances." The last two results both reflect a two-point decline since last May.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, said the latest poll "is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, a growing number of Americans are uneasy with the unfettered, under-regulated and unsavory abortion industry as it exists today."
Regarding the change in pro-choice and pro-life identification in the last year, Gallup did not offer a reason for the development but pointed to the focus on abortion in several news items, including: the congressional attempt to defund and its investigation of Planned Parenthood, the country's No. 1 abortion provider; the reversal by cancer charity Susan G. Komen of its decision to halt grants to Planned Parenthood; and the Obama administration's contraceptive/abortion mandate. That mandate requires health plans to cover contraceptives -- including ones that can cause abortions of tiny embryos -- and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees.
Dannenfelser cited the effort to require taxpayers to fund abortions as a key reason for the public's move away from the pro-choice position, noting, "Those who would have us continue to fund abortion with our tax dollars are arguing in direct opposition to public opinion.
"President Obama, his allies in Congress and the abortion lobby have radically overstepped their bounds, causing Americans to turn away quickly," Dannenfelser said.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also pointed to Obama's policies as an explanation for the change.
The president's "radical abortion agenda is finally putting a face on the 'choice' movement, and it's not pretty," Perkins wrote.
"What we're witnessing is the nationwide backlash to three years of Planned Parenthood-style governing," he said. "And led by the next generation, America is on the verge of a social revolution that will ultimately reclaim this nation as a culture of life."
It would seem the use of ultrasounds to show images of unborn children continues to have an impact on opinions about abortion as well.
After public opinion peaked in favor of the pro-life side in 2009 at 51 percent to 42 percent, the gap shrunk the next two years. In 2011, pro-life Americans were at 49 percent and pro-choicers at 45 percent.
Gallup conducted the poll of 1,024 adults by telephone May 3-6.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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