Joseph Cotto, 5/20/2015 [Archive]

Abortion as an Issue in 2016

By Joseph Cotto

Things are heating up for next year's presidential election.

Last time around, abortion rights played a major role in determining not only the race's tone, but its outcome. It's anyone's guess what will happen this time.

Fortunately, there is a key indicator that can help us along.

In early 2012, Gallup revealed that Americans were souring on abortion rights, with only 41 percent of respondents — a record setting low — describing themselves as being pro-choice. This number went down considerably from where it was in 2011; 47 percent. A surprising 50 percent, meanwhile, adopted the pro-life label.

When partisan registration was brought into play, a remarkable 72 percent of Republicans called themselves pro-life. That's a four point increase over 2011, when 68 percent reported the same. Democrats saw a surprising 10 point decline in their pro-choice convictions, with just 58 percent using this term to describe their views.

Indeed, the pro-choice position declined in favor even among independents; only 41 percent of them, mirroring the nation as a whole, supported it. This is particularly interesting, as 51 percent — a bare majority, but a majority nonetheless — held favorable pro-choice sentiments one year prior. The amount of pro-life independents, on the other hand, inched up to 47 percent.

This led some to believe that all hope was lost for keeping abortion legal in this country. While the trends were troubling, no doubt, there was no need to throw in the towel.

The poll also showed that respondents' opinions regarding the key issue here, namely preserving abortion rights, remained generally the same compared to years past.

"Gallup began asking Americans to define themselves as pro-choice or pro-life on abortion in 1995, and since then, identification with the labels has shifted from a wide lead for the pro-choice position in the mid-1990s to a generally narrower lead for pro-choice — from 1998 through 2008 — to a close division between the two positions since 2009," Lydia Saad, a writer for the public opinion firm, noted.

"However," she continued, "in the last period, Gallup has found the pro-life position significantly ahead on two occasions, once in May 2009 and again today. It remains to be seen whether the pro-life spike found this month proves temporary, as it did in 2009, or is sustained for some period."

People can describe their respective position as pro-choice, anti-choice, multiple choice, false choice, or no choice at all. At the end of the day, so long as any woman who wants an abortion can get one, what is the point behind all of the rhetoric?

Needless to say, political operatives on the left and right alike love these kinds of surveys. When abstract labels take over any discussion, then group politics comes into the picture and never fails to utterly decimate the landscape.

We can each have our own ideas about abortion rights, but switching the label to describe these on a yearly basis makes absolutely no sense. Then again, the same pretty much goes for the bulk of modern American politics, so maybe the pro-choice/pro-life conundrum actually fits in nicely.

Oh, well. So long as public opinion does not degenerate to the point of calling for clinics to be closed, things could be worse.

Whether or not the trend from 2012 continues into 2016 might not make much of a difference at all. Nonetheless, it can be said for certain that none too few politicians and political operatives will use and abuse the issue without reservation.

Some things, sadly, never change.


Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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