By John F. Triolo, Director of Communications
A recent poll by SocialSphere, commissioned by the Boston Globe, explores the political liberalism of Massachusetts residents. Among other interesting findings, the poll results seem to show broad support for legal abortion. The numbers show that 28% support unrestricted abortion and 42% support legal abortion with restrictions on time, manner, and other areas.
At first glance these numbers are very disappointing. Indeed, there is no way of receiving the news that so many of our fellow citizens can countenance the death of innocent unborn children other than with disappointment. When we consider the matter of practical politics and how to improve the current policy situation in this state, however, things don’t look nearly as bleak.
For instance: While the result purport to show that a large majority of Bay State residents support legal abortion, it also shows that a significant plurality add nuance to that support with a willingness to significantly restrict the scope of legal abortion. When the 42% supporting abortion with restrictions is combined with the 25% who oppose abortion we find that there is a significant majority, a law-making majority I would argue, which is in favor of, or persuadable on, rolling back much of the abortion regime currently prevalent.
While Massachusetts has laws on the book which place limits on legal abortion many of these regulations, through loopholes or selective enforcement by abortion friendly officials, are a dead letter. Legal reform of abortion acceptable to the 42%, what we might refer to here as abortion moderates, is possible and necessary. Common sense reforms such as a state ban on partial birth abortion, a ban on abortion for the purposes of sex selection, forcing facilities performing abortions to be licensed, and improving current informed consent laws can be sold to the abortion moderates while moving the pro-life agenda forward. Of course, such measures are not our final goal but they get us closer than we are now. If we are able to establish a short-term coalition that can agree on these and similar goals, the long-term should, in a sense, take care of itself.
I should explain what I mean when I say “take care of itself.” I do not, of course mean that pro-lifers will be able to sit back and let victory happen, far from it. We will still need to pursue an aggressive agenda of public education in order to convert the people of our state to a truly pro-life outlook but we will be greatly helped in this task by the gradual progress we make in the legislature. The relatively moderate position of the 42% hints at their ultimate persuadability on the issue of abortion. The true die-hard pro-abortion activists will almost always oppose any restriction on abortion, no matter how disgusted they me be at the practice being regulated (as in the case of partial birth abortions), because they are afraid of injuring the rhetorical basis of the “choice” arguments. The fact that so many Massachusetts residents who support abortion are willing to talk about reasonable restrictions indicates that their ideological commitment to abortion is not especially strong. In all likelihood, a significant proportion of these people support abortion because that seems like the socially correct position to have in Massachusetts. Many of these people could probably be drawn over to the pro-life side simply by shifting the Overton Window on the issue in the pro-life direction. This shift in perception could be accomplished in part by simply passing more, increasingly restrictive, laws regulating abortion. A great many people define what is moral with close reference to what is legal–while this tendency is deplorable in many ways, since it exists there is no good reason for the right side to fail to benefit from it.
So while pro-lifers should by no means be happy to see that so many people can live with legal abortion, we should not ignore the favorable opportunities presented by the revelation a large and persuadable section of the population.