Marcela Howell is the founder and executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, and she certainly does have an agenda with her misleading piece for The Hill: “Hyde Amendment is bad policy (and unpopular too!)”
To say that the Hyde Amendment — a rider which has passed with bipartisan support since 1976 to prevent taxpayer dollars from going towards abortions (except in limited circumstances) — “is bad policy” is a matter of Howell’s opinion, but the amendment has saved at least one million lives. Unfortunately, those with agendas like Howell, including the drafters of the Democratic Party platform, don’t seem to be backing off of their support for free abortion on demand for any reason.
To back up her claim that the Hyde Amendment is unpopular, Howell points to a poll from late June with 950 respondents. The problem? The poll is chock full of biased and leading language.
Respondents to the poll were presented with statements like the following:
- “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” 86 percent of voters agreed with this, including 90 percent of those 18-34. The language here does not directly specify that abortion is part of “a woman’s health coverage.” Use of the term “politicians” often has a negative connotation and could further skew the poll statement, as does the caveat “because she is poor.” This statement is really testing people’s opinions not just of paying for abortions, but of their feelings about politicians and their feelings about denying health services to poor people in general. It’s a poorly structured poll question.
- “As long as abortion is legal, the amount of money a woman has or does not have should not prevent her from being able to have an abortion,” is something 74 percent of voters agreed with. But such a question does not directly ask respondents if they think that taxpayer dollars should therefore pay for the abortions of women who cannot afford them.
- Seven in ten voters agree with this statement: “In the long run, it makes good sense that health programs for low-income women cover birth control and abortion–not just childbirth–because when people can plan to have children, it’s good for them and their families.” Here we see that the pollsters asked the question in such a way to lead respondents in a certain direction.
- The exact same thing — leading respondents in a certain direction — applies to the statement, “We do not always know a woman’s circumstances–we’re not in her shoes, when Medicaid covers pregnancy care but withholds coverage for abortion, we’re taking away a low-income woman’s ability to make important, personal decisions based on her circumstances,” which 65 percent of respondents agreed with.
When respondents were directly asked about Medicaid coverage for abortion, they were again barraged with options full of loaded language.
For instance, respondents were asked which statement is closer to their view, and were then given two options. One was the all-accepting, ‘judgment-free’ option, even one those “personally pro-life” may be able to agree with. The other was full of judgment. The pollsters make it quite clear which answer they want respondents to choose (emphasis mine):
- “We don’t always know a woman’s circumstances–we’re not in her shoes. When politicians say Medicaid can cover childbirth but ban abortion coverage, they are interfering with a woman’s ability to make important, personal decisions based on what is best for her and her family,” which 55 percent chose.
- “Abortion is not healthcare, and we shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to pay for people’s mistakes or make it easier to get an abortion. Our focus should be on protecting the unborn,” which 38 percent chose.
More questions similarly repeated earlier statements (with no improvement in the slanted nature of the poll questions):
- “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman insurance coverage for it just because she is poor,” which 59 percent chose.
- “Using taxpayer dollars for abortion forces all of us to pay for them–even people who don’t believe in abortion,” which 35 percent chose.
The bias and agenda are very clear.
A far more honest and straightforward poll, conducted by Marist/Knights of Columbus, shows different numbers. The poll simply asked over 1,000 adults, “Please tell me if you strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.” The poll found:
Taxpayer funding for abortion is opposed by 62 percent of Americans. This includes 65 percent of African-Americans, 61 percent of Latinos, and 45 percent of those who say they are pro-choice, as well as 84 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of Independents and 44 percent of Democrats.
Pluralities of Americans, at 31 percent each, said they “strongly oppose” or “oppose” using tax dollars in such a way — for a total of 62 percent who are against using tax dollars to pay for abortion.
Clearly, it is important to carefully read polling language in order to determine whether a poll is legitimate– and the one that Howell used to back up her claims clearly isn’t.