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A few weeks ago I posted about a surprising Pew Poll that reported a dramatic shift toward the pro life position on abortion in the last year. Now the respected Gallup Poll has reported similar findings and discovered that for the first time, a majority of people identify themselves as “pro life.” From the poll:

A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42% “pro-choice.” This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

The new results, obtained from Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.
Deeper in the poll, we find that 53% believe abortion should be legal in “some” circumstances, while 23% say it should never be legal and 22% believe it always should be legal. The “some” circumstances would, of course, include for the life of the mother, as well as rape and incest, so I am not sure how to evaluate that.

As I looked through the poll, it seems the conservative views have moved more towards pro life—up 5 points from 66 to 71% in the last year—as well as “moderates”—up a whopping 7 percent, from 38-45% toward the pro life view.

Why has this happened at a time when the newly elected government would appear to fall into the abortion should be legal in all circumstances camp? For one thing, abortion did not drive the election. But more to the point, the extreme (to use Gallup’s term) views on abortion of those now in charge may be the reason for the shift that clearly seems to have taken place. People understand that abortion is an important moral issue, and they push against those who see it as akin to an appendectomy. However, I also think that if the government were conservative and trying to eliminate all abortion rights, you might see the same dramatic shift in attitudes from the other direction.

The important question is what this means, if anything: With two respected polls showing a distinct move in the pro life direction, I think the government will try to keep the matter as a low priority concern among voters. If I am right, look for the Freedom of Choice Act—which would eliminate all state and federal restrictions on abortion—to remain moribund, at least until after the 2010 midterm elections. On the state level, where most pro life battles are fought, pro life political activists may have an opportunity in many states to further their cause—but they should also be careful not to overplay their hand.

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