Washington Post's Fletcher Oversells "National Consensus for Abortion Rights"

October 10th, 2005 6:09 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher's Sunday news analysis tackles the question of "Bush the Conservative vs. Bush the Pragmatist." Fletcher reported Bush is obviously conservative, but with pragmatic political instincts:

When it comes to abortion, one of the nation's most explosive topics, he has walked a fine line, touting his antiabortion sentiments while carefully acknowledging the national consensus for abortion rights. "I know good people disagree on this issue, but surely we can agree on ways to value life by promoting adoption and parental notification," Bush said at the 2000 Republican National Convention. Bush's caution around the volatile issue is well founded, as polls have consistently found support for fundamental abortion rights, even while the public backs some efforts to restrict access to the procedure.

But this "fundamental" consensus depends very much on how the question is worded. As the Polling Report shows, the most accurate description of an abortion "consensus" in America would be placed somewhere in the middle, not on the "fundamental right" side. Gallup always finds that when you give people the choice between "always legal," "sometimes legal," and "always illegal," the big majority lands on "sometimes." This does not describe a consensus for the "fundamental right" to abortion, but for a "limited right" to abortion.

It's true that a solid majority emerges when you ask if abortion should be a matter between a woman and her doctor, or if you ask if the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade. (You can question whether the public understands if overturning Roe is not equivalent to enacting a 50-state ban on all abortions.) Fletcher is right (in fact, too mildly right) that some restrictions are popular. Some are overwhelmingly popular: 80 percent back parental notification. There is no national parental notification law, and despite Bush's 2000 sentence, he's never pushed one.

Scroll down to 2003, and you'll see that most polls showed a solid majority opposing partial-birth abortion, even though most pollsters don't get the slightest bit specific about what it is (and neither do most media reports). President Bush has signed a ban on that skull-crushing procedure, but the Supreme Court has generally overturned state partial-birth bans. In fact, our current abortion laws are more permissive than the public consensus.

Bush hasn't pushed harder on abortion for at least this one major reason: reporters are overwhelmingly pro-abortion. One 1995 survey showed nearly all of the media elite (97 percent) agreed that “it is a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion,” and five out of six (84 percent) agreed strongly.