A New Survey on Abortion Rights Just Revealed Some Unexpected Results


In the wake of Colorado mass-murderer Robert L. Dear's Nov. 17 armed assault on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that left three people dead, something curious has happened: Support for legal abortion has increased.

A new Associated Press/GFK poll indicated that this month, support for a woman's right to choose has crested at a two-year high, with nearly six in 10 Americans (58%) agreeing "abortion should be legal in most or all cases," up from 51% at the beginning of 2015.

The polling is particularly significant because it was conducted in the wake of both the attack, but more notably some of the most vicious political attacks on abortion rights, particularly women's healthcare provider Planned Parenthood, in recent memory. In July, heavily edited videos from a group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress purported to show the organization's staffers discussing for-profit sale of fetal organs.

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Though the claims were ultimately proven wrong, as repeatedly found in a series of state-level investigations, the videos became a campaign issue after most of the current Republican presidential candidates denounced Planned Parenthood; early this month, the Senate voted to defund the organization, despite President Barack Obama's assertion that he would veto any such bill that came to his desk. 

In polls by Quinnipiac University noted by the Washington Post, it's clear the year of hostility did damage to the nonprofit's reputation, with 39% of respondents expressing an unfavorable view of Planned Parenthood as of September 2015. That's up from just 22% in 2012, and the number of people expressing favorable views on the nonprofit dropping from 55% to 44% over the same time period.

However, on its website, Planned Parenthood cites 14 polls the nonprofit says demonstrate widespread public opposition to defunding the organization, including an October Rasmussen poll in which 53% of voters expressed favorable views on the nonprofit.

It's not clear that either the shooting or right-wing rhetoric on abortion was the impetus for the upswing in public support for abortion more generally. Via Twitter, pollster Emily Swanson told Mic that "causal connection between events and changes in opinion [are] difficult to prove," but that the "timing is worth noting."

But it does look abortion opponents are facing some blowback — even among Republicans.

"While support for legal abortion edged up to 40% among Republicans in this month's poll, from 35% in January, the survey found that the GOP remains deeply divided on the issue," the pollsters write. "Seven in 10 conservative Republicans said they want abortion to be illegal in most or all cases; six in 10 moderate and liberal Republicans said the opposite."

This might put the Republican presidential field in a tight spot, seeing as all of the prominent candidates oppose abortion.

It's not the first time social conservatives have found themselves on the wrong side of a poll recently — last week, Pew Research Center revealed data showing a growing majority of Christians are in favor of societal acceptance of homosexuality.

Dec. 22, 2015, 6:10 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect a correction on polling data cited by the Washington Post, which reported Quinnipiac polls indicating 59% of respondents had an unfavorable view of Planned Parenthood. The corrected figure is 39%. Additionally, this article has been updated to include a collection of polls a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said demonstrates popular public support for the nonprofit.