The Magazine

A Moral Majority

From the August 4 / August 11, 2003 issue: Soccer moms are more anti-abortion than you think.

Aug 4, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 45 • By MARK STRICHERZ
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Which polls is von Drehle referring to? It certainly wasn't the poll Wattleton's organization, then called the Center for Gender Equality, took four years ago, which found that 53 percent of women favored outlawing abortion or restricting it to the hard cases--a pre-Roe standard. Nor could von Drehle be referring to the current study, in which 51 percent of women felt the same way.

Of course, even Republican pollsters acknowledge the difficulty of overturning Roe and Doe. As Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies recently pointed out, pro-lifers "have a lot of persuasion left to do." Yet pro-choicers also have their work cut out for them.

"The poll was a big surprise," says CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, who also serves on the board of advisers for Wattleton's organization. In a June 28 story for National Journal, Schneider wrote, "The message [of the study] is clear: For most women today, quality-of-life issues prevail over women's rights. This shift is likely to put liberals at a distinct disadvantage in any fight over a Supreme Court nominee."

Of course, "Progress and Perils" isn't an exact road map for Republicans. It didn't ask respondents about specific abortion curbs, such as parental notification, or whether they support the procedure during the first trimester. Also, the study makes clear that some feminist principles remain popular. A strong majority of respondents say that the women's movement has helped them (60 percent) and that one need not be a mother to live a complete life (72 percent). Neither of those answers, however, is incompatible with pro-life and Republican positions.

Even before this report, the truism that Republican stands on abortion make the party unpopular with women had been undergoing revision, as evidence suggested other GOP positions actually played quite well with women. "Goodbye, Soccer Mom. Hello, Security Mom," Time magazine said on June 2, in an influential cover story that's been echoed in many other campaign stories. One California woman who "used to choose the candidates who were most liberal on abortion and welfare" told the magazine: "Since 9/11, all I want in a president is a person who is strong."

Republicans are listening. Dan Balz recently reported in the Washington Post that Bush advisers are targeting married women in general and security moms specifically. Only it's not true that national security is a strong issue, while abortion is a weak issue for Republicans, and "Progress and Perils" proves it.

A typical CNN story in September 1996 stated that Bob Dole's failure among female voters "is often attributed to Republican efforts to restrict abortion." Such conventional wisdom is mistaken. On abortion, not only are most women not pro-choice, but their position might be described as, well, Republican.

Mark Stricherz is a 2003 Phillips Foundation fellow.