The abortion debate: A poll, plus experts and organizations

Two pending developments are contributing to an escalation of the nation’s long-standing debate over legalized abortion: health care reform and the anticipated release of proposals, developed by a White House task force, aimed at reducing abortion. 

A large-scale survey from the Pew Forum released Thursday, Oct, 1, 2009, shows that opposition to legal abortion is growing. The surveys shows that the country is almost evenly divided between those who tend to support abortion rights (47 percent) and those who express opposition (44 percent) to abortion rights.The poll also shows that positions on either pole seem to be hardening.Health care reform and the abortion reduction task force are just two of the factors contributing to this volatile debate.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008, who supports abortion rights, after eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush, who opposed abortion rights, has also galvanized the pro-life movement. Added to this dynamic are the shooting death in May of George R. Tiller, a Kansas doctor who provided rare late-term abortions, and Obama’s nomination (and the subsequent Senate confirmation) of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Opponents of abortion argue that current proposals will effectively pay for abortions with taxpayer dollars by requiring insurance plans to pay for them or subsidizing plans that pay for them.

Governors and legislatures are cutting funds for Planned Parenthood in some cases or are trying to pass laws that, for example, would require abortion providers to show women an ultrasound of the fetus or listen to a fetal heartbeat.

In November 2011, voters in Mississippi defeated a “personhood amendment” that would have defined a person as existing from the moment of the fertilization of an egg. The vote showed how the battle over abortion rights is increasingly taking place in the states.

Many abortion opponents backed the personhood amendment because they believed passage of Proposition 26 would have effectively ended legalized abortion by making destruction of an embryo at any stage and for any reason illegal.  

This edition of ReligionLink provides resources to help reporters navigate the volatile issues at stake. 

What's new

The change in public opinion plus the shifting political landscape have forced abortion-rights groups to be far more active than they had expected in advancing their agenda and defending previous gains. Congress continues to work on health reform, and abortion funding is becoming an increasingly critical part of the debate.

The Pew Forum survey on abortion tracks attitudes going back several years and finds a distinct uptick in opposition to abortion rights since the inauguration of President Obama.

More than 1,100 clergy and religious professionals have signed an open letter “affirming abortion as a morally justifiable decision.” The letter was organized under the auspices of the Religious Institute, a leading interfaith organization promoting sexual and reproductive rights. The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, sent a letter to all members of Congress on Jan. 14, 2011, outlining the hierarchy’s legislative priorities.

Opposition to abortion tops the list. Dolan led a group of religious leaders in New York City in decrying the city’s 41 percent abortion rate, as this CBS/Associated Press story explains. The religious leaders called for pragmatic steps to make abortion “rare.” The White House task force on abortion reduction proposals holds promise in the view of some, while others are skeptical, as this May 7, 2009, Wall Street Journal story recounts.

The movement to pass so-called “personhood” amendments that would define an embryo as a person from the moment of conception and — organizers hope — effectively overturn abortion laws is gaining steam.

President Obama appointed Regina M. Benjamin, a Catholic who attended a Catholic elementary school in her hometown of Daphne, Ala., as surgeon general. There is speculation about how her beliefs might affect her policy stances on issues like abortion and contraception.

Divisions over access to abortion played a role in the Obama administration’s decision not to renew a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of human trafficking.

Americans are conflicted about the morality of abortion, but a majority say it should be legal in all or most cases, according to a survey conducted in April and May 2011 by the Public Religion Research Institute. A study published in March 2011 found that abortions declined in states that enacted laws dealing with parental notification, informed consent or Medicaid funding of the procedure.

Death of Dr. Tiller

Dr. George R. Tiller, who provided rare late-term abortions in Wichita, Kan., was shot to death in May in the foyer of his church as he handed out church bulletins. His death was considered a setback for both advocates and opponents of abortion rights.

Abortion opponents saw a parallel to the Tiller slaying in the Sept. 11, 2009, shooting death of a sidewalk abortion protester in Michigan, James Pouillon. The motive for the Pouillon killing was not clear, and the suspect in the case, Harlan Drake of Owosso, killed another man that morning and planned a third shooting, both apparently unrelated to abortion. But some abortion opponents focused on Pouillon’s death as an example of violence against abortion protesters.

Georgia approved the country’s first law allowing human embryos to be adopted the same way a baby can be adopted. Opponents say the measure is a backdoor attempt to grant legal rights to embryos.

Mississippi voters decided against adopting a personhood amendment to the state constitution.

Abortion foes in Florida, South Dakota and Ohio are reportedly preparing similar measures for consideration in those states in 2012.

flood of abortion-related legislation has been introduced in state legislatures in 2011. Among other things, a number of states are seeking to limit private insurance coverage of abortions. In October 2011, the U.S. House passed the Protect Life Act, 251-172, a move praised by abortion opponents, including the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The measure aims to protect conscience rights of health-care workers and apply long-standing federal policies on abortion funding and was introduced in response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010.

Legislation at the State level

Georgia approved the country’s first law allowing human embryos to be adopted the same way a baby can be adopted. Opponents say the measure is a backdoor attempt to grant legal rights to embryos.

Mississippi voters decided against adopting a personhood amendment to the state constitution.

Abortion foes in Florida, South Dakota and Ohio are reportedly preparing similar measures for consideration in those states in 2012.

flood of abortion-related legislation has been introduced in state legislatures in 2011. Among other things, a number of states are seeking to limit private insurance coverage of abortions. In October 2011, the U.S. House passed the Protect Life Act, 251-172, a move praised by abortion opponents, including the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The measure aims to protect conscience rights of health-care workers and apply long-standing federal policies on abortion funding and was introduced in response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010.


Abortion rights and health care are rarely far from the headlines, but they are especially hot topics given the furor over the decision — later rescinded — by the Susan G. Komen foundation to end most of its grants to Planned Parenthood.

The Komen foundation, a leading advocacy and fundraising organization for breast cancer awareness and prevention, had sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening services.

But because Planned Parenthood  provides abortions at its clinics along with other health services for women, some religious and political groups were upset that the foundation would be linked to a group that also provides abortions.

Others argued the connection was too tenuous to justify ending grants to help prevent and detect breast cancer.

The Komen foundation said it was suspending the partnership with Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress over some of its practices. On Feb. 3, 2012, it announced a change of heart.

But the controversy is unlikely to end.

In another notable development, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, the latest in a series of similar bills and laws that have been winning approval in state legislatures around the country.

The Virginia bill is expected to pass the state’s lower chamber in the next few weeks, and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has said he would sign it into law.

These bills have the potential to alter access to abortion for many women, just as efforts to defund Planned Parenthood could limit the number of clinics.

In the Supreme Court

The high court’s two newest members are Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Abortion opponents voiced concerns during Kagan’s confirmation process last year that she would prove to be “reliably pro-abortion,” although she had written relatively little on the subject. During Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings in 2009, she said she considers Roe v. Wade to be “settled law,” a phrase used by earlier Republican nominees. Sotomayor said states should not put an undue burden on pregnant women seeking an abortion before a fetus has reached viability, meaning the baby could live on its own.

In Congress

Twenty-eight bills involving abortion were in Congress in 2011. Among other things, the bills condemn Tiller’s death, call for research and services for women with post-abortion depression, prohibit discrimination against the unborn on the basis of sex or race and assert that human life begins at fertilization.

  • “Abortion” at OpenCongress

    An open-source project of the nonprofit Participatory Politics Foundation, tracks bills involving abortion. As with all open-source sites, journalists should verify information found there before using.

In the States

Experts say that abortion opponents, predicting that federal action for their agenda will be difficult with Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, are turning to state legislatures to advance their cause. Here are some developments in 2009, according to

  • Georgia approved the country’s first law allowing human embryos to be adopted.
  • Arizona became the 22nd state to require 24-hour waiting periods for women seeking abortions. Minors must show proof of parental consent.
  • Arkansas became the 15th state to ban the late-term abortion procedure known as partial-birth abortion.
  • Kansas, Ohio and North Dakota now require clinics to post notices informing women they cannot be coerced into having an abortion.
  • Kansas and North Dakota have new laws requiring doctors to offer women considering abortion the option of viewing an ultrasound photo of the fetus before they decide.
  • Utah joined eight other states to have a “fetal pain” law that requires doctors to offer women the option of receiving anesthesia for the fetus before an abortion.


Religion-related resources: Christian

  • Assemblies of God USA

    Assemblies of God is a national and international organization that makes up the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination of some 66 million members and adherents worldwide, and over 3 million members in the U.S. The organization works to promote religion itself and aspects of practice to its members. The church’s four-fold mission is expressed through evangelism, discipleship, worship and compassion.

  • “Abortion access” has a listing of statements on abortion from various faith groups and other organizations.

  • United Methodist Church

    Read their official statement on abortion.

  • Catholic Online

    Catholic Online  has over 5 million pages of resources including the largest online historical and biblical database about the Catholic Church.

Religion-related resources: Jewish

Religion-related resources: Muslim

Religion-related resources: Abortion-related ministries

  • “Post-Abortion Resources”

    The website offers a listing of people and ministries around the country that offer post-abortion counseling. The group behind the site is lobbying both political parties to stop coerced abortions and support post-abortion therapy.

Studies and Statistics



National Sources

Organizations against abortion rights

Organizations for abortion rights

  • ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

    The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project believes reproductive freedom is a core civil liberty and works to ensure that everyone has access to reproductive health care. Louise Melling is director. See a list of ACLU offices across the country.

  • Association of Reproductive Health Professionals

    Posts publications and resources on its Web site, including a list of links. Beth Robbins is media contact.

  • Jon O’Brien

    Jon O’Brien is president of Catholics for Choice, which believes that the individual conscience should be the keystone for moral decision-making on reproductive rights matters and that affordable contraception should be available to all.

  • Guttmacher Institute

    The Guttmache Institute seeks to advance sexual and reproductive health through research, policy analysis and public education. Contact Rebecca Wind.

  • Medical Students for Choice

    Medical Students for Choice, based in Philadelphia, is a group formed by medical students in 1993 to make sure abortion procedures are taught in medical school.

  • NARAL Pro-Choice America

    Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. The nonprofit advocacy group supports “near-universal contraception coverage.” The website lists affiliates around the country.

  • Vicki Saporta

    Vicki Saporta is executive director of the National Abortion Federation in Washington, D.C., the professional association for abortion providers in North America.

  • Debra Ness

    Debra Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Washington D.C., that works to promote quality health care for women, including access to abortion. Contact communications assistant Cindy Romero.

  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America fights against legislation that limits access to abortions. Contact the media office.

  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

    The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, D.C., pushes for more health care options for women, not fewer. It sponsors a National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality each year. Michael Mitchell is director of communications.

  • Ann Stone

    Ann Stone is the head of Republicans for Choice in Alexandria, Va., which says its aim is to remove politics from the abortion debate.

  • Teresa S. Collett

    A law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, where she is described as a “passionate advocate for the protection of human life and the family.” She has assisted attorneys general in several states in defending laws restricting abortions.

  • Dr. Douglas Laube

    Dr. Douglas Laube is a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He previously served as chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

National experts for abortion rights

Other national experts

  • David E. Joseph

    David E. Joseph is senior vice president of operations at the Public Conversations Project, where he has facilitated dialogues between people and groups on opposing sides of the abortion debate.

Regional Sources

State-by-state sources

In the Northeast

  • George Annas

    George Annas is professor and chairman of the health law department at the Boston University School of Public Health and an expert on abortion policy, embryo research, stem cells and end-of-life research.

  • Jack M. Balkin

    Jack M. Balkin is a constitutional law professor at Yale Law School and an expert on abortion policy and the First Amendment.

  • Michele Dillon

    Michele Dillon is associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She wrote “The American Abortion Debate: Culture War or Normal Discourse?” for the book The American Culture Wars: Current Contests and Future Prospects (University of Virginia Press, 1996). She is the author of Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith and Power.

  • Richard Fallon

    Constitutional law professor at Harvard. His article “If ‘Roe’ Were Overruled: Abortion and the Constitution in a Post-Roe World” appeared in the St. Louis University Law Journal (2007). 

  • Phillip Levine

    Phillip Levine is the Katharine Coman and A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Economics at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He wrote Sex and Consequences: Abortion, Public Policy, and the Economics of Fertility (Princeton University Press, 2004).

  • Laurence H. Tribe

    Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University. Tribe’s areas of expertise include abortion and church-state issues. He wrote the book Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes.

  • Jonathan E. Brockopp

    Jonathan E. Brockopp is associate professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. He edited the book Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War and Euthanasia, and he wrote an article on Shariah for the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World.

  • Faye Ginsburg

    Faye Ginsburg is professor of anthropology at New York University. She wrote the book Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (University of California Press, 1998).

  • Judith Hauptman

    Judith Hauptman is professor of Talmud and Rabbinic culture at Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. She wrote the article “Abortion: Where We Stand” for the journal United Synagogue Review.

  • Harvey Kornberg

    Harvey Kornberg is associate professor of political science at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. He has expertise in abortion politics.

  • Marian Lief Palley

    Marian Lief Palley is a professor emerita of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware in Newark and an expert on abortion politics.

  • Rita Simon

    Rita Simon is university professor emerita of justice, law and society for the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. She wrote the book Abortion: Statutes, Policies and Public Attitudes the World Over (Praeger Publishers, 1998).

  • James Trussell

    James Trussell is a professor of economics and public affairs and faculty associate with the Office of Population Research at Princeton University in New Jersey. He has an expertise in abortion and advocates making emergency contraception widely available as a means of reducing unintended pregnancies and runs a website on the topic.

  • Clyde Wilcox

    Clyde Wilcox is professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He specializes in electoral behavior and public opinion and can comment on the Catholic vote, abortion, gun control, gay rights, church-state issues and other issues involving religion and politics. He wrote “Abortion, Gay Rights and Church-State Issues in the 2000 Campaign” for the book Religion and Liberal Democracy: Piety, Politics and Pluralism and he is the co-author of The Values Campaign? The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections.

In the South

  • Alan Abramowitz

    Alan Abramowitz is a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert on abortion politics.

  • Simone M. Caron

    Simone M. Caron is chair of the history department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. She has studied the history of abortion.

  • Neal Devins

    Neal Devins is a professor of law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He is an expert on abortion law.

  • Stanley M. Hauerwas

    Stanley M. Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He wrote “Why Abortion Is a Religious Issue” for the book The Church and Abortion: In Search of New Ground for Response.

  • Abdulaziz A. Sachedina

    Abdulaziz A. Sachedina is a coordinator of the Islamic bioethics group of the International Association of Bioethics and is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He contributed the entry on bioethics for The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.

  • Christopher Tollefsen

    Associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina and co-author of the 2008 book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.

  • Donald P. Judges

    Donald P. Judges is associate dean of graduate programs and experiential learning and a professor of law at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is an expert on the conflict over abortion rights.

  • Nancy Maveety

    Nancy Maveety is an associate professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. She specializes in women’s issues.

  • Martha I. Morgan

    Martha I. Morgan is a Robert S. Vance Professor Emerita of Law at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Her area of study is abortion rights.

  • Kevin Wildes

    The Rev. Kevin Wildes is president of Loyola University New Orleans. He wrote “The Sanctity of Human Life: Secular Moral Authority, Biomedicine and the Role of the State” for the book Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity.

  • Robert M. Baird

    Robert M. Baird is a professor and chairman of the philosophy department at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He co-edited the books Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate, Caring for the Dying: Critical Issues at the Edge of Life, and The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice.

  • J. Matthew Wilson

    J. Matthew Wilson is an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His interests include religion and politics, and voting behavior of religious voters.

  • Francis J. Beckwith

    Francis J. Beckwith is professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He writes and comments widely in defense of traditional Christianity. He also wrote Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.

In the Midwest

  • Richard Duncan

    Richard Duncan is a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an expert on abortion law.

  • Timothy R. Johnson

    Timothy R. Johnson is assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He wrote the entry on Roe v. Wade for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts on File, 2003).

  • John F. Kavanaugh

    The Rev. John F. Kavanaugh is a philosophy professor at St. Louis University. He wrote the book Who Counts as Persons? Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing.


  • Ellen S. Lazarus

    Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and an expert in medical ethics and education and abortion politics.

  • Daniel C. Maguire

    Daniel C. Maguire is a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and editor of Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. He is also president of the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, a multifaith organization of religious scholars interested in reproductive health and other issues.

  • Charles E. Rice

    Charles E. Rice is professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame law school in Indiana. He wrote the article “Abortion, Euthanasia and the Need to Build a New Culture of Life” for the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy (1999).

In the West

  • Deborah R. McFarlane

    Deborah R. McFarlane is a professor in the department of political science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She co-wrote the book The Politics of Fertility Control.

  • Barbara Norrander

    Barbara Norrander is a political science professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She co-wrote the entry “Public Opinion and Policymaking in the States: The Case of Post-Roe Abortion Policy” for the book The Public Clash of Private Values: The Politics of Morality Policy (CQ Press, 1999).

  • Ted G. Jelen

    Ted G. Jelen is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has followed religion and politics, including the participation of the Catholic Church and the role abortion politics plays. He co-edited the books Abortion Politics in the United States: Studies in Public Opinion and The One, the Few and the Many: Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. He also co-wrote the book Between Two Absolutes: Public Opinion and the Politics of Abortion.

  • James C. Mohr

    James C. Mohr is a history professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene. He is a nationally recognized expert on the abortion issue and author of Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy (Oxford University Press, 1979). He writes that the abortion debate has become a symbolic focal point for a variety of social issues. As a result, abortion politics now has an influence in Congress, the federal judiciary and American foreign policy.

  • Melody Rose

    Melody Rose is the Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Instruction at Portland State University. She is also the founder of The Center for Women, Politics & Policy and the founder and director of the National Education for Women’s Leadership Oregon, and she is the author of Abortion: A Documentary and Reference Guide (2008) and Safe, Legal and Unavailable?: Abortion Politics in the United States.

  • John E. Seery

    John E. Seery is a professor of politics at Pomona College in California. He is an expert on abortion politics and wrote the article “Moral Perfectionism and Abortion Politics” for the journal Polity (2001).

  • Robert Spitzer

    The Rev. Robert Spitzer is president of the Michigan-based Spitzer Center, which provides resources for businesses and educational institutions of the Catholic faith.