Public Opinion and Organized Interests
Consensus Building or Mobilization of Bias?
A democratic government is supposed to be responsive to public opinion without disparaging the rights of minorities, but oftentimes public policy is shaped by organized interests without regard to the majority view. This political dilemma lies at the heart of the debate over abortion. What exists is a situation where two "intense" minorities have polarized views of abortion policy that do not represent the feelings of the majority of Americans or Canadians. In both countries the majority stands to the right of the strongest pro-choice position but left of the absolutist pro-life position. That conclusion is apparent from survey data indicating that the contours of public opinion on abortion have been generally unchanged over the past two decades.
In the United States, even before Roe, there was a virtual consensus favoring therapeutic abortions under specified medical conditions but resistance to abortion on demand. One analysis of Gallup polls during the 1960s found that "abortion to preserve the mother's health or prevent child deformity may be said to be publicly well accepted, while abortion for discretionary ('selfish') reasons receives minimal but, nonetheless, rapidly growing support. Legal freedom of elective abortion, however, is rejected by the non‐ Catholic majority" (Blake 1971, 544; see also Blake 1973; Pomeroy and Landman 1973). In Canada, a 1965 poll found that nearly three-fourths of those surveyed supported therapeutic abortions when the mother's health was endangered (Boyd and Gillieson 1975, 55-56).