Associated Press Poll on Supreme Court Abortion Decision Contains Error

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 29, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Associated Press Poll on Supreme Court Abortion Decision Contains Error Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 29, 2004

Washington, DC ( — An Associated Press poll that measured public opinion on the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and potential nominees to the high court contains a key error that probably drastically changed the results.

The AP survey questioned whether or not Americans believed President Bush should appoint a Supreme Court judge who favors overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs, the poll qualified the question by first telling respondents that the "1973 Supreme Court ruling called Roe v. Wade made abortion in the first three months of pregnancy legal."

But, that’s not true.

"Roe v. Wade allows absolutely no limits on reasons for abortion until nearly six months into pregnancy," explains National Right to Life legislative director Douglas Johnson.

In fact, Roe v. Wade made abortion legal for any reason at any time until "viability," the 22-24 week point in pregnancy where an unborn child, with medical assistance, can survive on her own outside of her mother’s womb.

After viability, the Supreme Court says abortions may be performed for any reason to protect a woman’s "health" — a term that has been so broadly defined as to include virtually any reason. Roughly 10 percent, or 130,000 legal abortions, are performed annually in the United States after viability.

"It is way past time for the news media to stop distorting the real terms of Roe v. Wade," Johnson said.

The AP story "paint[s] a greatly exaggerated picture of public support for the Supreme Court’s abortion policy ," Johnson indicated.

The poll, which found that two-thirds of respondents don’t want President Bush to appoint pro-life judges who will overturn Roe, flatly contradicts previous polling data.

A Wirthlin Worldwide poll commissioned just after the presidential elections, found 55 percent said they took a pro-life position and only 40 percent took one of three positions in favor of legal abortions.

Only 9 percent said abortion should always be legal at any time during pregnancy and just 25 percent agreed with the AP presentation of Roe, saying abortion should be legal for any reason within the first three months of pregnancy.

Surprisingly, a former Associated Press executive refuted the notion that Roe only allows abortions in the first three months of pregnancy nearly 20 years ago.

A September 1981 directive to reporters by Louis Boccardi, then executive editor of the Associated Press, said, "The [Roe v. Wade] decision is often misreported, even now…. For summary purposes, you can say the court legalized abortion in 1973…. Thus, it’s wrong to say only that the court approved abortion in the first three months. It did that, but more."

The AP story released today also includes the myth that overturning Roe will make all abortions illegal.

Should the Supreme Court reverse the landmark decision, states will be able to make their own laws on abortion. Some states in the South, Midwest and West would likely make abortion illegal while other states in the Northeast and on the Pacific coast would likely keep abortions legal.

The current Supreme Court is divided 6-3 in favor of Roe v. Wade.

"The public deserves from the news media not the continued propagation of discredited myths, but a more candid discussion of the effects of Roe and the legal effects of changing Roe," Johnson concluded.

Related web sites:
National Right to Life –
Louis Boccardi directive –