At the National Right to Life convention last week, NRLC Executive Director, Dr. David O’Steen, unpacked polling data that reveals our nation’s view on abortion and explains why National Right to Life supports incremental or “step by step” legislation. Dr. O’Steen was a former mathematics professor and department chairman at the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota, when he began his grassroots pro-life involvement in 1973.
Dr. O’Steen began his lecture by explaining a new poll conducted by The Polling Company, which revealed that 58% of the American people believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. The circumstances in which most people believe abortion should be available are in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, according to the late June survey.
According to the teaching text of the National Abortion Federation, these cases make up a very small percentage of U.S. abortions. Only 12% of women included a physical problem with their health as a reason for having an abortion (most were not life-threatening), and only one percent reported choosing the procedure because they were survivors of rape.
While National Right to Life is often criticized because they support legislation that provide rape, incest and life of the mother exceptions, Dr. O’Steen explained why they do during his lecture, The Challenge and the Opportunity: Understanding the Public Opinion on Abortion.
“We are not out just to make a statement. We will state our principles. We want no child conceived in rape aborted, and we want to save them. But we can’t save any children if we have a solidly pro-abortion House, Senate, and President, not through the law.”
O’Steen made it clear that this does not change National Right to Life’s position or beliefs, but emphasized that polls show that the majority of people will not support political candidates that run their campaign on an abortion without exceptions platform. But when pro-life candidates run with these exceptions, the results are astounding.
For example, The Polling Company found that 75% of people support pain-capable bills that protect 20-week or older unborn children from abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother.
Dr. O’Steen also discussed the debate in the pro-life community over several proposals that would grant personhood to unborn children at the moment of conception and would recognize unborn children as persons under the law. While this seems like a positive proposal, Dr. O’Steen said National Right to Life has not adopted this strategy. He said this is partially because their attorneys say it may have no effect on abortion law, and because it could prohibit some forms of birth control, could prohibit in-vitro-fertilization, and possibly subject women to prosecution for murder who have abortions.
Additionally, National Right to Life believes these proposals won’t gain the support of the American people. In a June 2014 study conducted by The Polling Company, 62% of individuals opposed personhood proposals.
The new polling NRLC released indicated personhood amendments do not resonate with the American public.
Lastly, Dr. O’Steen said that these findings show that when we keep our incremental legislation, we win. The American people believe in common-sense legislation and they support ending abortion in most cases. If we meet people where they are, we can change laws one by one and show our nation that abortion, even under the worst of circumstances, unjustly kills an unborn child.
So far, through incremental legislation, we’ve eliminated partial-birth abortion, enforced regulations on the abortion industry that help protect women from sloppy, Gosnell-like abortionists, and enacted laws that protect pain-capable unborn children. We’ve established waiting periods, which give women time to reconsider their decision, and through ultrasound laws, we require abortion facilities to show mothers a moving image of their unborn child’s beating heart. All of these protections bring us one step closer to a pro-life future.