Is Illinois pro-life or pro-choice?
By NICK PANAGAKIS
The great majority of Illinois voters are neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the volatile abortion issue. In a poll of 700 Illinois voters we conducted for the Chicago Tribune during December, 54 percent took a middle position: favoring legalized abortion with restricted availability. Another 23 percent initially favored legal abortion without restrictions, but later in the interview half of them clarified that they wanted abortions restricted to the first trimester. Sixteen percent of all state voters said abortions should be illegal regardless of circumstances. (See table 1.)
These findings are supported by other polls also offering a middle-ground position to respondents. Opinions on the abortion issue are not revealed with simple yes-no or for-against questions. Allowances must be made for the majority whose support for abortion is conditional, depending on circumstances.
The most important restrictions for abortion are related to the month of pregnancy when abortions should be allowed. Of all voters, 19 percent said abortions should "never" be allowed, a true pro-life position. Another one-fifth simply did not know when they should be allowed, perhaps indicating some people cannot decide when life begins. A majority of the balance, 49 percent of all voters, would restrict abortions to one of the first trimester months. Just 12 percent of all voters would allow abortions after the first trimester, which are allowed under Roe v.
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Wade. (See table 2 where responses are presented by the three groups identified above. For convenience, we call the 23 percent favoring legal abortions without restrictions "pro-choice," the 16 percent saying abortions should always be illegal "pro-life" and the 54 percent majority who took the middle ground "moderates."
Half of the pro-choice 23 percent who said "no restrictions" at first, later said they would restrict abortions to a first trimester month, which means they assumed some limit on the month in the initial question. Adding this 12 percent to the 54 percent indicates two-thirds of Illinois voters favor to abortions but with restrictions.
Under which circumstances do most Illinois voters find abortion acceptable? Rape, incest and to save the life of the woman are acceptable reasons to significant Majorities of Illinois voters. (See table 3 which also shows responses by the three groups.) Even a majority of the pro-life group would allow abortions to save the life of the woman. And, a clear majority of all groups favor parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.
Fifty-six percent of all voters approve abortions when the fetus is not physically or mentally normal. A lesser majority, 52 percent, favor abortion "only after tests show the fetus cannot survive" (the viability testing requirement which is an element in the Webster ruling). Both the pro-life and pro-choice groups have greater opposition to requiring viability tests but for obviously different reasons.
The poll also found a majority of voters, 58 percent, are bothered by the number of abortions being performed. They want more restrictions generally so there will be fewer abortions.
We asked voters to set aside legal questions affecting the issue and to answer whether they personally feel abortion is right or wrong. More feel abortion is wrong than not by 48 percent to 41 percent. Why do personal feelings not parallel opinions on how abortion laws should be written? "It is sometimes the only choice in a bad situation,'' according to 63 percent who also said abortion is wrong.
Nick Panagakis is president of Market Shares Corporation in Mount Prospect. A member of the National Council on Public Polls, he is best known for election and exit polls conducted for the news media.
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