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Poll indicates more Americans call themselves ‘pro-life’

At a time when President Obama is trying to convince opponents in the abortion battle that they can find middle ground -- in rhetoric, if not reality -- a new Gallup Poll shows that more Americans describe themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”

For the first time since it began asking the question in 1995, Gallup reported Friday, a majority of adults questioned for its annual survey on values and beliefs -- 51% -- said that when it comes to abortion, they consider themselves “pro-life”; 42% consider themselves “pro-choice.” (The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.)

This represents a significant shift, Gallup noted. As recently as last year, 50% of respondents called themselves “pro-choice” and 44% identified themselves as “pro-life.”

Moderate and conservative Republicans accounted for the change; Democrats’ attitudes toward abortion remained constant. “It is possible,” Gallup said in its analysis, that the president “has pushed the public’s understanding of what it means to be ‘pro-choice’ slightly to the left, politically.”

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Regarding abortion restrictions, the largest proportion of Americans supports legal abortion only in certain circumstances -- as has been true since 1975 -- according to Gallup. This year the figure is 53%.

At the ends of the spectrum, the number of people who think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances has risen, to 22%, and the number who think it should be legal in any circumstances has fallen, to 23% -- a virtual tie. In the previous few years, people who opposed all restrictions outnumbered advocates of a total ban by a wider margin.

Still, said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America: “I am pretty confident that Americans really don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned.” The larger number of Americans calling themselves “pro-life,” she said, “doesn’t square with what has happened in the last several elections.” Keenan cited the rejection of abortion bans by voters in politically conservative South Dakota in 2006 and 2008, and the failure of five other antiabortion ballot measures in California, Oregon and Colorado since 2005.

But antiabortion activists think they have more than the new poll on their side. “This isn’t new,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life. “It tracks pretty much with what we’ve always known: People generally are pro-life depending on how you ask the question.”

The poll comes at a delicate moment for Obama, who campaigned saying abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”

During his first three months in office, he took a number of steps that infuriated abortion foes. For example, he lifted abortion restrictions on foreign family-planning groups that receive U.S. funding, and he ended President George W. Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research.

But Obama has tried at times to appease opponents of abortion rights.

Last month, he backpedaled on a campaign vow to enact the Freedom of Choice Act, which would guarantee the right to legal abortion even if Roe vs. Wade were overturned. He now says the legislation is not a priority.

But Yoest said abortion foes were not placated. “There has been such an avalanche of pro-abortion activity that it’s jaw-dropping. It’s not just that his rhetoric doesn’t square with reality; the gap is Grand Canyon-size. I think this administration has fundamentally miscalculated how out of step they are with the American people.”

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robin.abcarian@latimes.com


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