Why Roe v. Wade polls at 70%, yet we’re losing the war on women

I wrote yesterday about a new poll showing “whopping” support for abortion rights. I asked at the time, why it is that public support for Roe v. Wade keeps growing while we don’t see parallel progress on pro-choice issues in the political realm.

So I asked Gloria Feldt, the former head of Planned Parenthood, about this strange dichotomy in yesterday’s polling. Here is what Gloria told me:

I have experienced several such cycles. The current support for Roe is hardly a “profound” shift, but rather one that can be counted on to follow severe threats to the right to make personal childbearing decisions. For example, the last peak cited was when the Webster case was decided at about the same time as Anita Hill was treated so disrespectfully by the Senate Judiciary committee. This year we had the perfect storm of Komen, Fluke, the Republican War on Women, and those infamous binders of women.

But soon this moment will be forgotten, just as happened after the 1992 elections. And unless there is a solid and sustained pro-woman, pro-choice policy agenda and thought leadership, this moment will likely be followed by another cycle of declining support and further legislative erosion of access to abortion.

The dichotomy of steady or increasing public support for Roe and increasing legislative and now judicial setbacks to reproductive rights-birth control as well as abortion-occurs because the pro choice movement has too often been defensive rather than proactive.

I think back to something Gloria told me ten years ago now. It was 2003. We (gay people) had just won a huge victory in the Supreme Court in the Lawrence v. Texas case, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional (i.e., state laws that basically made gay relationships illegal). Gloria and I were sitting next to each other at a lunch, and she told me, and I paraphrase:

“Don’t make the same mistake we did.”

What do you mean, I asked her.

She told me that when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the pro-choice movement thought they won and the battle was over. And while they were celebrating their victory, the religious right regrouped and whittled away at Roe for forty years until it was next to meaningless.

By winning, they’d lost.

roe v. wade rape woman fear women

Woman via Shutterstock.

And it’s not only a problem that the choice movement faces.  In every progressive movement we’ve had to deal with the problem of both resting on our laurels (we’re right, everyone knows we’re right, politician X has already promised to help us, so we don’t need to fight anymore for our rights), and not thinking long-term (the right fights to win the minds of the people over a period of decades, we fight to win a legislative battle tomorrow).

And as I mentioned in my previous post, the public option polled at 70% and where did that get us?  And the assault weapons ban polls in the 70th percentile as well – so why is it so hard to get it reinstated?

Corruption is one good reason.  Big Pharma, big insurance, and a lot of other lobbyists didn’t want real health care reform.  It doesn’t benefit their profits for us to pay less for more efficient care.  They’d rather continue charging us a 500% markup on the same drugs they sell in Europe for 1/5th the cost.  And the same goes for gun control.  Votes are bought and sold, and members of Congress are threatened and defeated, for not toeing the lobby line.  It doesn’t matter if the public is on your side if you let the other guy make it more lucrative for politicians to support him and more dangerous for them to support you.

That’s why I’m a firm believer in in-your-face activism.  You take a nascent support in the public, whip it into a frenzy, and use it as a cudgel (or carrot) against your target, be they a politician or a corporation.

The one thing you don’t do is sit back with binders full of apathy because 70% of the public is on your side.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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18 Responses to “Why Roe v. Wade polls at 70%, yet we’re losing the war on women”

  1. karmanot says:

    “play the victim card,” Yep, the old abuser meme, “You know I love you, why do you make me hurt you.”

  2. karmanot says:

    This is a disastrous trend.

  3. karmanot says:

    All the way UB!

  4. karmanot says:

    One of the worst examples is in Arizona, where the destroyed Latin American studies by banning books in the school system.

  5. caphillprof says:

    It’s not over until it is over.

    Subject: [americablog] Re: Why Roe v. Wade polls at 70%, yet we’ re losing the war on women

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    Why Roe v. Wade polls at 70%, yet we’re losing the war on women” Because the women’s movement is shackled to the Democrats by groups that are little more than front groups for the Democrat Party.

    The same is true of LGBT groups and the right wing of the antiwar movement.

    The solution is political independence and a campaign of mass action around a program that’s simultaneously reasonable but which the Democrats and their cousins the Republicans will reject out of hand.

    Campaigns for free abortions on demand, irrespective of age and not requiring parental notification, for socialized medicine and for the criminalization of cult interference in civil matters like reproductive health are examples.

  7. UncleBucky says:

    Right! And we can add what you wrote to my list of how to fix this.
    1. Daylight the rght-wingers (regardless of faith, race or apparent wealth)
    2. Isolate them from their means to power.
    3. Ignore them anymore as if they no longer are talking.
    4. (Nicho) Educate the present, future and other generations who through ignorance, allow the right wing to dictate to them.

    Excellent. (Any other ways to fix this, folks?)

  8. UncleBucky says:

    We’re losing (at least right now) for the same reason that women lose against bullies, boyfriends, husbands, and employers. There are voices of authority (authoritarians!) who scream loud, play the victim card, and do their best to intimidate, threaten and kill.

    However, we can silence those voices, the voices of white male supremacists, Roman Catholic bishops, Protestant Ministers and LSD elders and all their buddies. The first way is to daylight these people for their own bigotry and hatred of anyone who’s not like them. The second way is to isolate them (pull the plug on their communications and take away/neutralize their weapons). The best way is to turn around and ignore them as if they are no longer around.

    Yep, they’ll pull out their weapons when we’re not looking. And we must be ready for them. We are the good “guys”!

    OK? :)

  9. Badgerite says:

    I don’t know if you noticed but along with the election of Obama there were a record number of women elected to the Senate and at least two more women on the Supreme Court. If you think that had nothing at all to do with him and the organizing of his campaign that got these voters to the polls regardless of GOP efforts to stop that from happening, you are activist, you are detached from reality. No one is saying don’t fight. Just please fight effectively.

  10. samizdat says:


  11. samizdat says:

    “Don’t make the same mistake we did.” The same goes for the environmental movement. Hell, name just about any progressive cause over the last forty years–labor rights/unionization, civil liberties, anti-nuke/war, etc.–and the tale is the same. The left seems to have this impression that conservatives will just sit back and say, “oh, well, that’s that”. If anything, they gotten even more extreme (to a dangerous and mentally unstable extent). Now, it would seem that most of these movements have been co-opted by the same “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”/”let’s work with industry” nitwits. Like Drone-bama bots.

  12. Naja pallida says:

    I think that is mainly because we thought they were settled issues. We fought them, one side won. And, I mean, what kind of Luddite would want to deny contraception to people in this day and age? Not to mention, these are also settled issues in the rest of the “western” world as well. The very idea that there could be a large number of people in this country who want to so punish women is really hard to grasp for anyone who was raised at a time when they were told they could do anything they wanted. They didn’t just have to get married, have babies, cook, clean and sew.

  13. nicho says:

    This is why the right wing has opposed such things as Black studies, women’s studies, and LGBT studies classes. They don’t want the younger generation to understand the history of how we got to where we are.

  14. nicho says:

    Many women, like many men, will continue to vote — and work — against their own self-interest.

  15. nicho says:

    When you live in a corporate dictatorship, it doesn’t matter what the bottom 99 percent think.

  16. Houndentenor says:

    There are more women than men in this country. At some point women are going to wake up and realize how much power that gives them. The will stand up and demand their rights and shun the men who want to strip them of these rights. When that happens things will change. I think it’s coming very soon.

  17. caphillprof says:

    For the most part women have failed to bring their daughters and granddaughters into the cause. Too many young women do not have a clue about the history of not only abortion, but of contraception. They take these things for granted. In the last year, I met a 40ish woman who could not conceive of any state having the ability to prohibit the sale and use of contraceptives.She was a college graduate and had no idea.

  18. Lisa Johnson says:

    Very good article, John. I was on the front lines of women’s rights in the 70s and, of course, abortion rights. It pains me so much to see this current assault and the hateful attitudes of too many of our male politicians (and women) who seem to believe they have a “God” given duty to dictate morality to everyone else. It happens too often in life and that is one of the causes of the continuing battle and struggle of equal rights for all.

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