January 17, 2013 Print

When you hear Roe, think Doe

by Carrie Gordon Earll

Public opinion polls on abortion can be revealing, and misleading.  If the poll doesn’t ask an accurate question, it won’t yield accurate answers

For instance, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center demonstrates the importance of referencing the landmark Roe v Wade abortion ruling with its companion case, Doe v Bolton.  The U.S. Supreme Court handed down both rulings on January 22, 1973, but Roe has become the shorthand phrase for journalists, abortion activists and most pollsters.  And that’s a problem.

The poll asked Americans if they would like to see the Supreme Court “completely overturn Roe v. Wade” or “not overturn Roe v. Wade.”  In the polling question, Roe is described as establishing “a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.”

As in past polls when this same question was asked, most people responded they would not like the Court to overturn Roe.  And based on the polling question, I’m not surprised.

If Roe were the only ruling handed down that day 40 years ago, the question would be accurate and reflect reality.  It was not and it does not.

The two rulings were issued together and U-S abortion law – state and federal – is ruled by Roe and Doe in tandem.  While Roe clears the legal path for abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, Doe’s “health” exception broadens that path to include abortion for any reason during the full nine months of pregnancy – something a majority of Americans do not support.

As a side note, the poll also measured how many people under the age of 30 knew Roe was about abortion – 57% either said they did not know or thought it dealt with another issue.

It’s too bad the poll did not attempt to gauge how many respondents of any age understood the full impact of the two abortion rulings.  Sadly, the likely answer is that most do not.