Sinking Polls Suggest Little Support for Restricting Abortion Coverage in Health Reform


A curious trend surfaced in early November when public support began to tank for health care reform as different schemes were floated by Congress and the House voted to further restrict federal funding for abortion. Which raises an interesting question: Can we blame those waning views on the Stupak-Pitts amendment?

To get a sense of what’s happening, Pollster.com compiled 12 months of survey data from media-backed, independent and partisan polling firms to aggregate health care reform surveys to gauge overall general support or opposition.

As is typical with any charged issue, partisan voters in the political minority will reflexively oppose a bill championed by the majority. Especially when it’s described as "Obamacare" or the Democrats’ plan. It’s just the way of Washington.

However, it’s critical to recognize, as Pollster notes, the inherent problems in trying to poll a complicated issue like health care rather than the typical horserace surveys of "Do you like candidate X?" that lead to much more straightforward statistical conclusions.

That’s certainly part of the problem in trying to untangle where the American public really is on this issue. As politicians float trial balloons on various aspects of the bills and opposition arguments decrying a "government takeover of health care" take hold in the media, it’s not surprising that a general lack of support is becoming more firmly rooted in the poll results. All the while Capitol insiders of health care reform have done a lousy job of succinctly describing their goals in a sound bite obsessed media culture.

So then how does one explain the overwhelming 30-point margin of support for the "public option?"  A Dec. 9 CBS-New York Times poll reveals a 59-29 breakdown for the federal health exchange of public, nonprofit and private health insurance plans consumers can choose from to help break up the current local insurance monopolies that hinder competitive pricing and contort risk pools by denying coverage based on age, gender and pre-existing conditions.

A Dec. 18 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation that has tracked reform support since Feb. finds 54 percent of Americans believe it is more than important than ever to tackle the problem. Whether voters support or oppose reform measures, significant numbers are actively engaged in the debate. Half of respondents have tried to sway family and friends, contributed to an interest group or contacted the media or elected representative.

In a guest commentary at Pollster.com, the folks behind the Ipsos-McClatchy Poll account for the discrepancies this way:

In contrast, issues like healthcare reform are quite fuzzy as no bill typically exists at the beginning of the process. This makes the construction of a single question impossible if not simply disingenuous.

Put another way, we have no "true value" to measure against — no concrete bill exists (or at least did not exist until recently). You can’t measure what doesn’t exist!

The problem is most apparent when looking at generic questions on healthcare. Such questions are broadly worded and lack any concrete anchor. People, consequently, can (and do) read into them what they want, making their meaning variable.

This is precisely what’s happening with the public option which is easily describable and has "true value." It wins enormous popular support.

Ipsos-McClatchy, and others, finally took the rising negativity toward health care reform a step further. They asked respondents, why? And they got an earful from unexpected critics of the plan — self-described liberals who groused that it didn’t go far enough.

As Pollster.com illustrates:

With the stunning lack of mention about abortion by opponents does that mean we can fling the Stupak-Pitts straw man into the pyre of blame for declining poll numbers on health care reform? Like the public opinion polling, it’s fuzzy.

The ensuing media circus fueled by the contentious abortion funding debate created an unnecessary diversion from much needed scrutiny of H.R. 3200 which undoubtedly added to the public’s confusion about the landmark bill. Obsessing over the whip count on Stupak-Pitts (and the recently defeated Nelson-Hatch amendment in the Senate) falls neatly into the binary debate that a complicated issue like government intervention cannot.

So much so that conservatives have very effectively set up pro-choice lawmakers to kill health care reform should either the onerous Senate Manager’s Amendment, which segregates federal funding but ultimately remands abortion coverage decisions to the states, or the Stupak-Pitts language remain in the reconciliation bill sent to the president. No muss, no fuss and no fingerprints.

But the facts remain. Few Congressional conservatives will vote for health care reform or the wildly popular public option anyway — with or without an expansion of the current Hyde amendment that prohibits federal funding of abortion.

Further, as CBS News polling director Sarah Dutton points out: opposition to federal funding of abortions has hovered just above 50 percent for more than 30 years.

The needle gauging abortion funding hasn’t moved in three decades. And as the Pew Research Center notes, those who oppose health care reform over the possibility of abortion funding constitute a measly three percent of the American electorate. Among respondents that identify as Catholics and evangelical or mainstream Protestants, just eight percent say abortion funding is the primary reason they will not support the bill.

White evangelical Protestants (74%) and white Catholics (72%) were more likely than white mainline Protestant opponents of reform to say that abortion funding was a major reason for their views. But even within these religious groups, larger shares list the expansion of government as a major factor. Nearly all opponents of the legislation cited multiple concerns as major reasons for their position, and not one cited abortion as the only major reason they opposed the bills before Congress. In other words, every single person who said abortion funding was a major reason that they opposed the bill also cited one or more other major reasons. 

Instead of legitimately debating the federal government’s role in private health care, politicos, pundits and lobbyists with clerical collars bathed in the shallow tributaries of stagnant anti-abortion statistics to divert attention from the hundreds of millions in health care industry political contributions and financial motives at the heart of their opposition. And all the while scoring cheap political points with buzzed up constituencies.

So, go on pro-choice advocates. Be loud and be proud. But know that if health care reform fails the abortion effigy will be set ablaze once again by craven ideologues with a penchant for fuzzy math and our own congressional coalition who fall for it.

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  • tripledomer

    The pro-abortion rights extremists are in denial. Not only republicans, but over ONE-QUARTER of House democrats, voted for Stupak. Though it failed to get supermajority, a bipartisan majority voted for stupak-like language in the Senate.

    The one question which is remains is whether the dems will sacrifice health care at the altar of choice extremism. Do they prefer 30+ million uninsured…or making NARAL happy?

  • crowepps

    47% oppose because it gets government too involved in healthcare.

    Apparently almost half the population prefer 30+ million uninsured to getting the government more involved in healthcare.  That doesn’t have anything to do with abortion but instead with the perception that government involvement in anything at all is a bad idea, a construct created, owned and promoted by ‘conservatives’.

    Your dichotomy of ‘choice extremism versus health care’ is clearly exactly the type of distraction the article speculates will be used to cover up the fact that insurance, pharmaceuticals and health care conglomerates have gotten exactly the result they paid for.

  • tripledomer

    It isn’t a distraction, its political reality. Stupak is going to stay strong; this means that the dems will have to decide on whether to make NARAL happy and kill the bill or to come to the aid of 30+ million vulnerable persons without health care and with preexisting conditions.

    It will be very telling how this all plays out.

  • julie-watkins

    Being a woman, I don’t like the continual institutionalized discrimination. I’ve been of two minds about this since it became clear that Insurance Industry (like the Bank Industry) was going to demand a bailout. It’s not right, but I don’t see it happening otherwise. If they don’t feast, the uninsured don’t get crumbs.

    HOWEVER, I’m not someone who should say what’s too much of a concession to Stupak & Nelson. I have "good" insurance. (I think it’s good; we’ve got hundreds, probably thousands, insured at U of I. If the companies doing "murder by spreadsheet" denials & recissions, I think AFSCME would have made fits about that in contract negotiations … not to mention the local indymedia newsmonthly.

    If legitimate advocates for the uninsured are saying "it’s not perfect but better than nothing" I’m not going to go against their judgement: they’ve got more at stake than I do. I think a lot of people would like something better than nothing, even if it is sexist/unfair.

  • emma

    I fully advocate it. I’m so glad we have a somewhat functional public health care system in Australia. The private insurance industry has gained way too much influence and government funding here, as well, but nothing like the system you guys have to deal with. I can’t even imagine having to live with the fear of going bankrupt if I had a severe illness or catastrophic injury. Some of my American friends have major illnesses and equally major insurance problems, and it’s just so horribly unfair that they can’t access treatment.

     

    It sounds like meaningful ‘reform’ there is probably not really going to happen there, anyway? Not just because of Stupak, but I think I read that the Senate version of the bill has dispensed with a public option entirely. If the final bill contained a mandate and no public option, that would be insane and criminal. I mean, mandatory payments to private insurance companies that are likely to continue to fuck people over anyway? That’s just so fucked up I feel sick thinking about it.

     

    But anyway, crossing my fingers over here that you guys do get some kind of meaningful reform. Including abortion coverage.

  • crowepps

    The Senate bill does NOT contain a public option.   Most of the provisions don’t take effect for another five years.  In the meantime, doctors will continue to prescribe expensive propriatory drugs because the cute salesperson is a former cheerleader who jiggles and hands out free stethoscopes.  Even after it takes effect and people are required to purchase insurance policies which are discovered to not cover their treatment, they will continue to go bankrupt because of medical bills are generated by a profit-driven system, and both health care conglomerates and insurance companies will continue to make obscene profits.

     

    The $600 million spent to defeat and/or distort the bill will provide a short economic boom for the ad agencies, public pollsters and lobbiests who were hired to make sure the bill wouldn’t adversely impact anybody’s profits, and I’m sure we’ll all enjoy the really neat campaign ads in 2010 that the Senators and Representatives will be able to buy with their fat share.

     

    And women will still get abortions.

  • grayduck

    Emma on December 23, 2009 – 10:23pm: "I can’t even imagine having to live with the fear of going bankrupt if I had a severe illness or catastrophic injury."

     

    I have number of pre-existing conditions- including hydrocephalus, Crohn’s Disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, osteoporosis, and anemia- but have no fear of massive health care expenses causing me to go bankrupt. That is because my state has a special insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions. The problems that you are discussing are specific to individual states- not to the whole country. I see no reason why we need a national solution to a problem that only affects certain states.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • emma

    Yeah, ok, it’s just that I’ve read that the most common cause of bankruptcy over there is medical debt, which would suggest it’s a fairly pervasive problem, would it not? I actually know three Americans who’ve had to declare bankruptcy because of medical expenses, and it seems monstrously unfair.

     

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with so many medical conditions. The spondylitis and crohn’s in particular must cause a lot of pain.

  • prochoiceferret

    The problems that you are discussing are specific to individual states- not to the whole country. I see no reason why we need a national solution to a problem that only affects certain states.

    Yeah, kind of like Jim Crow laws back in the day. It’s not like there were separate-but-"equal" facilities in every state, after all….

  • grayduck

    Emma on December 25, 2009 – 7:05pm: "Yeah, ok, it’s just that I’ve read that the most common cause of bankruptcy over there is medical debt, which would suggest it’s a fairly pervasive problem, would it not?"

     

     

    Pervasive, perhaps, but some of us who live in states that already have good health care systems would rather keep the current system. There are other benefits to a state-based approach as well. First, the states have more systems in place that interact directly with citizens and are, therefore, in a better position to offer services and to enforce laws. The tax-collection agency (which I happen to work for as a field agent) is the only federal agency that interacts with all Americans. Another advantage of the state-based approach is that government officials live among the people and serve fewer constituents relative to their numbers. Therefore, residents can more easily influence public policy. A third advantage to health reform at the state level is that state policies can be tailored to the unique challenges, preferences, and traditions of a state rather than being forced into a system that may be optimal for only some states. Another reason to reform at the state level is that it allows for a mix of approaches that could lead to finding that some are superior to others. Finally, the federal government is overwhelmed with debt. The system for providing health care to the elderly accounts for most of that debt and is doomed to bankruptcy.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • grayduck

    ProChoiceFerret on December 25, 2009 – 10:05pm: "Yeah, kind of like Jim Crow laws back in the day."

     

    How is health care reform like racial segregation?

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • prochoiceferret

    How is health care reform like racial segregation?

    If the government of the state that you live in doesn’t give a flying fig about the problems that bad health care systems or racially discriminatory laws cause for you and a portion of your fellow citizens, you’re screwed. I’m sure there were those who didn’t see the need for national legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, either.

  • crowepps

    I suppose it would be possible to set up a web site that matched up state benefit programs and people’s disabling conditions, so that each person could move to the place where he/she could get adequate care, but what would happen after all those other people found out about your state being superior and moved there?  Wouldn’t your state insurance system have to cut back?  I seem to remember something similiar happened with Welfare, where many states cut their benefits so that they would stop attracting waves of indigent immigrants.

  • teb-abhour

    Voters oppose 72 – 23 percent using any public money in the health care overhaul to pay for abortions, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.
    http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1295.xml?ReleaseID=1408

    A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday morning indicates that 61 percent of the public opposes using public money for abortions
    http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/11/18/abortion.poll/index.html

    72% Oppose
    http://www.usnews.com/polls/house-healthcare-bills-ban-on-abortion-coverage/results.html

    Abortion funding drew strenuous opposition from the American public, regardless of political persuasion, with 72 percent saying they oppose “using any public money in the health care overhaul to pay for abortions” and just 23 percent saying they favor it.
    http://lifenews.com/nat5835.html

  • wini-salta

    First of all, I must say that I have been active in the pro-choice movement for many years and have never met anyone who is pro-bortion as one of the comments says. In addition, I believe that I am pro-life in that I oppose the death penalty, abhor the murder rate in this country, have worked in suicide prevention programs and believe that war is obsolete in 21st century. In addition, I believe that each child born is holy and deserves the best life possible, unlike so many who call themselves right to life and only mean the fetus.

    I am puzzled by those who object to a woman having dominion over her own body. Why should the state have any interest in what a woman does in caring for herself. It has no interest in what a man does to his body. Except for anti-suicide laws, of course, which are gender neutral. The argument that life begins at conception is full of holes. Those who are anti-choice offer religious reasons for being against a woman’s right to choose. However it is quite clear that even God doesn’t preserve every pregnancy. Many pregnancies, as many as 31%, are lost in early pregnancy, that is, before 20 weeks of gestation. Many of these pregnancies are lost spontaneously before a woman recognizes that she is pregnant, and the clinical signs of miscarriage are mistaken for a heavy or late menses (monthly period).Health care reform that would guarantee a woman’s right to early and adequate prenatal care could reduce significantly the number of these early pregnancies that are lost. If the fetus is so precious then let’s have good health care reform that provides life-long health care for that fetus once s/he is born.

    As a registered nurse, I have actively worked for the improvement of the health of my patients and advocated for a universal health benefit that would help to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates in the US for citizens of all ages.  A universal health benefit, such as Medicare for all, would be my choice for the best option but a public option would go a long way toward help us reduce disease and death and go a long way toward reducing health care costs and our burgeoning deficit.

  • wini-salta

    First of all, I must say that I have been active in the pro-choice movement for many years and have never met anyone who is pro-bortion as one of the comments says. In addition, I believe that I am pro-life in that I oppose the death penalty, abhor the murder rate in this country, have worked in suicide prevention programs and believe that war is obsolete in 21st century. In addition, I believe that each child born is holy and deserves the best life possible, unlike so many who call themselves right to life and only mean the fetus.

    I am puzzled by those who object to a woman having dominion over her own body. Why should the state have any interest in what a woman does in caring for herself. It has no interest in what a man does to his body. Except for anti-suicide laws, of course, which are gender neutral. The argument that life begins at conception is full of holes. Those who are anti-choice offer religious reasons for being against a woman’s right to choose. However it is quite clear that even God doesn’t preserve every pregnancy. Many pregnancies, as many as 31%, are lost in early pregnancy, that is, before 20 weeks of gestation. Many of these pregnancies are lost spontaneously before a woman recognizes that she is pregnant, and the clinical signs of miscarriage are mistaken for a heavy or late menses (monthly period).Health care reform that would guarantee a woman’s right to early and adequate prenatal care could reduce significantly the number of these early pregnancies that are lost. If the fetus is so precious then let’s have good health care reform that provides life-long health care for that fetus once s/he is born.

    As a registered nurse, I have actively worked for the improvement of the health of my patients and advocated for a universal health benefit that would help to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates in the US for citizens of all ages.  A universal health benefit, such as Medicare for all, would be my choice for the best option but a public option would go a long way toward help us reduce disease and death and go a long way toward reducing health care costs and our burgeoning deficit.

  • wini-salta

    First of all, I must say that I have been active in the pro-choice movement for many years and have never met anyone who is pro-bortion as one of the comments says. In addition, I believe that I am pro-life in that I oppose the death penalty, abhor the murder rate in this country, have worked in suicide prevention programs and believe that war is obsolete in 21st century. In addition, I believe that each child born is holy and deserves the best life possible, unlike so many who call themselves right to life and only mean the fetus.

    I am puzzled by those who object to a woman having dominion over her own body. Why should the state have any interest in what a woman does in caring for herself. It has no interest in what a man does to his body. Except for anti-suicide laws, of course, which are gender neutral. The argument that life begins at conception is full of holes. Those who are anti-choice offer religious reasons for being against a woman’s right to choose. However it is quite clear that even God doesn’t preserve every pregnancy. Many pregnancies, as many as 31%, are lost in early pregnancy, that is, before 20 weeks of gestation. Many of these pregnancies are lost spontaneously before a woman recognizes that she is pregnant, and the clinical signs of miscarriage are mistaken for a heavy or late menses (monthly period).Health care reform that would guarantee a woman’s right to early and adequate prenatal care could reduce significantly the number of these early pregnancies that are lost. If the fetus is so precious then let’s have good health care reform that provides life-long health care for that fetus once s/he is born.

    As a registered nurse, I have actively worked for the improvement of the health of my patients and advocated for a universal health benefit that would help to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates in the US for citizens of all ages.  A universal health benefit, such as Medicare for all, would be my choice for the best option but a public option would go a long way toward help us reduce disease and death and go a long way toward reducing health care costs and our burgeoning deficit.