Americans See Abortion, But Not Stem Cell Research, as a Moral Issue

A new Pew poll found that Americans  view abortion as a moral issue, even compared to other scientific and medical procedures that involve the use of fertilized human eggs.

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A new Pew poll found that Americans view abortion as a moral issue, even compared to other scientific and medical procedures that involve the use of fertilized human eggs. In the poll, 49 percent of Americans thought abortion was morally wrong, while 15 percent thought it was morally acceptable. 23 percent of Americans thought it wasn't a moral issue at all. But compare that to the other issues Pew queried:

Like abortion, embryonic stem cell research terminates the embryo. But only 22 percent of Americans think embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong — a plurality aren't convinced it's even a moral issue at all. While there's a correlation in Pew's results between those who oppose abortion on moral grounds and those who oppose embryonic research, that gap could speak to the stark differences in how the two issues are discussed and legislated. Both are opposed by, say, Lifenews, an anti-abortion site that put Pew's poll on their homepage today. Here's how they approached the findings, with some frustration about the inconsistency:

A new Pew research poll finds Americans say abortion is morally wrong by a 3-1 margin. However, Americas are still divided on the issue of embryonic stem cell research — even though it destroys human life and still has not helped any patients.

To be sure, there's plenty of discussion on the ethics of using embryonic stem cells for research, both within the core anti-abortion community and among the scientists engaging in the research. (some researchers are looking into ways to mimic embryonic cells). But the issue of abortion in the U.S., unlike stem cell research, is as much a legislative issue as it is anything else these days. As our Allie Jones broke down earlier, Pew data demonstrates stark regional differences and trends on Americans' views on whether abortion should be legal or not, and under what circumstances.

While the issue is currently framed in "momentum" language familiar to any election horse race aficionado, our views on its legalization overall have stayed pretty steady since Roe v. Wade. A plurality, and sometimes a majority, of Americans consistently believe that abortion should be legal under some circumstances. And with few exceptions over the years, slightly more Americans have agreed that abortion should be legal under all circumstances (currently, that number is 26 percent), than those who believe it should be completely illegal (20 percent, by Gallup's most recent numbers). So what's momentum got to do with it?

For starters, the far-right legislative push to pass a series of abortion-restricting laws is bringing a cornucopia of moral associations with it, ones that resonate with conservative-leaning politics. And those associations are dominating the discussion of the issue, stripping it of its ethical complications in favor of a series of moral judgements on the types of women who decide to undergo an abortion, who might get their contraceptives (or use them at all) from Planned Parenthood, or who might oppose laws that would limit access to either. That's backed up by the effects of the latest round of legislation, which, instead of simply proposing that the U.S. make abortion completely illegal — presumably what one would go for if one believed abortion was morally wrong — attempts to dismantle the infrastructure that provides the service, along with countless other women's health procedures and resources including contraception, to women who wouldn't be able to access or afford it otherwise. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise that abortion stands out as an issue that most Americans see in moral terms: it's much more visible, and loaded politically, than any other comparable subject.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.