Companies, research centers and advertisers are always putting out new questionnaires to gauge American public opinion on issues that matter to them. In an economy that centers on providing people with the exact goods and services they desire — sometimes before they even know they desire them — information about people and their beliefs is just as valuable in the grasp of a political action committee as the latest presidential polling data is in the hands of a campaign manager.
So, even though the elections are long past, private groups are still assessing American public opinion, especially on social issues like abortion. Unfortunately, more than thirty years after Roe v. Wade, “reproductive rights” are still fighting words in the United States.
Most recently, President Barack Obama’s administration’s health care act has come under fire for mandating that business owners pay for a portion of their employees’ contraceptives.
While the Obama administration has contended such a directive will mean more safe sex and fewer unplanned pregnancies, conservative commentators have been wary of the provision, declaring it to be a “war on religious freedom.” According to Talking Points Memo, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., even went so far as to compare the passage of the law to other destructive events like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, decreeing the day of the bill’s passage to be “the day religious freedom died in America.”
Research studies have confirmed the positive effect the policy has on abortion rates. A four-year longitudinal study that focused on low-income women in St. Louis concluded that cheaper access to a wider variety of contraceptives decreased unintended pregnancies in both teenagers and grown women. When women were unconstrained by cost, they chose contraceptives that were more effective and longer lasting than the cheaper brands, dramatically lowering their need to access an abortion in the first place.
Lagging slightly behind the debate, public opinion data on the bill was collected and released last week by LifeWay Research, a fairly progressive Nashville-based Christian research firm. The organization found, to its disappointment, that 63 percent, or nearly two-thirds of Americans, “agree businesses should be required to provide their employees with free contraception and birth control, even if it runs counter to the owners’ religious principles.”
The results of the poll are encouraging. They show that the American public does not equate contraceptive use with abortion, an issue over which citizens split more equally — 41% reported themselves as pro-choice and 50% described themselves as pro-life, according to the most recent Gallup Polls.
Abortion, the most politicized non-political issue of our day, is a complicated ethical and legal issue that still brings grief to many. I’m sure many of us have friends on both sides of the classic liberal conservative spectrum who fall on both sides of the pro-choice pro-life debate. Unfortunately, these distinctions and divisions miss the point.
The question governments at all levels should be asking is not, “Should abortion be legal” but rather, “What can society do to decrease the number of abortions?” Understood in that sense, the health care law’s provision to increase the availability of birth control options should be celebrated by every person who wants to see a greater number of healthy, mature and financially secure American families.
An integral part of leading America is mending tears in our social fabric, and addressing issues like unintended pregnancy is a crucial part of this project. Unanticipated population spikes can overrun basic social services like schools, health clinics and other government agencies. They are also correlated with an increase in crime rates and spikes in drug usage.
By giving women the tools they need to take care of themselves, the Obama administration is making the responsible, humane decision, one that both encourages personal responsibility and aids family cohesion. Organizations should welcome the public’s acceptance of the bill as responsible and civic-minded instead of showing disappointment.
Nathaniel Olson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and psychology.