This morning, Bil sent me a link to a new Gallup Poll on abortion-debate terminology. Their earth-shattering conclusion? 'Public Divided on "Pro-Choice" vs. "Pro-Life" Abortion Labels.'
Tell me something I don't know. Personally, even I'm divided on those labels.
Sure, I consider myself "pro-choice"--as I define it. What I mean when I say "pro-choice" or "pro-life" may or may not be what you mean by those terms. And I can guarantee you it's not what the Fundies think of when they use them--but then, what I assume their definitions are probably aren't how the Fundies would phrase it.
Maybe we need to move past "pro-choice" and "pro-life." Maybe they've outlived their usefulness as societal markers. I think David Morris was right, it's a continuum; and I think George Lakoff was right: you can't not think of an elephant. You can, however, pretty much completely predict the outcome of any survey or poll by determining how the questions are written; everything is about the importance of defining your terms--or not defining them.
You know, like asking "Do you support the troops?" Obviously, there's no one in America who would say no. But if you clarify and ask "Do you support the troops with proper equipment and medical care?" or "Do you support using the troops as pawns in an unnecessary diversion from the real problems facing this country?", suddenly you've got a raging debate on your hands.
In the case of this survey, the questions seem mostly unbiased, yet as someone who's followed the abortion debate pretty closely for quite awhile, I was thrown by one detail of the results. According to this poll, "49% of Americans consider themselves pro-choice and 45% call themselves pro-life," yet:
When it comes to Americans' specific attitudes about the legality of abortion, public opinion is somewhat more conservative than its attachment to these labels would suggest. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (58%) think abortion should either be limited to only a few circumstances or illegal in all circumstances. Just 4 in 10 (41%) think it should be legal in all or most circumstances.
58% strikes me as high, and a bit out of step with previous polls, which have been fairly uniform. The reason? The pollsters left it to the individual to fill in his/her own set of "circumstances." And that's the crux of the debate: how can we truly judge someone else's circumstances?
Personally, I define "pro-life" as someone who supports human rights and dignity after birth--someone who thinks all kids and adults deserve access to health care, education & job training, a clean environment, and full autonomy and freedom (this is "pro-baby", according to Morris' continuum--either way, it means I don't consider many folks who call themselves "pro-life" to be pro-life.) And I define "pro-choice" as someone who, regardless of what s/he would decide when faced with a pregnancy, could not make that decision for anybody else, and as someone who does not want government or religious bodies to make pregnancy, health care, or educational choices for individuals.
Seems pretty simple, and pretty straightforward, and pretty much solidly lands me in the "legal in all circumstances" category. Except, I have to admit I am bothered by stories of sex-selective abortions going on in India and China. Seriously--there are so many couples in those countries choosing to end a pregnancy because the fetus is female that it's showing up in census data. I gotta say, I consider that pretty messed up.
But back to the crux of the debate: is it right for me to judge people in those (specific cultural) circumstances?
Today, please give us your definition of "pro-choice" and "pro-life", and which do you consider yourself? (Later in the week: how this poll compares to recent polls on attitudes toward LGBT rights.)