‘Divided’ on Abortion Rights?

IMG_GTY_38TH_ANNUAL.jpg_1_1_RV38FCTGCitizen activism mostly doesn’t often get much media attention. But turn to today’s edition of USA Today (1/25/13) and you see coverage of a protest that hasn’t even happened yet. That’s a little odd;  but the paper’s point in covering this weekend’s anti-choice “March for Life” is is to note that, 40 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, the country is divided on abortion rights. Natalie DiBlasio reports:

Americans remain divided on abortion, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll. Significantly more Americans — 53 percent to 29 percent — want the decision kept in place rather than overturned. And 18 percent have no opinion, the highest level of uncertainty Gallup has recorded on the issue.

That’s an odd way of describing a 24-point spread in public opinion; it’d make more sense to see numbers like that and conclude that the public supports a woman’s right to an abortion.

This is actually a pretty widespread phenomenon in Roe anniversary coverage. On NBC Nightly News (1/22/13), anchor Brian Williams told viewers, “Tonight, what Americans now think about one of the most divisive issues of our time.”

And what did they think? Correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported later in the broadcast:

 Today, seven out of 10 people in our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned.

If you think public opinion polling is a way to measure public division, and you trust your own polls, then that would make it one of the least divisive policy issues of our time. There are obviously other factors at play when it comes to reproductive rights, but it remains striking how often media are willing to talk about choice in the context of “divisiveness.”

For more on this, see Rose Aguilar’s recent column or her appearance on this week’s CounterSpin.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.