The challenge of turning pro-choice Americans into pro-choice voters

“Pollsters say there are arguments in favor of abortion rights that can resonate across the ideological spectrum. The most popular messages, researchers find again and again, are those that emphasize freedom from government control, and those that stress that abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor.

For the past decade, these concepts haven’t always been prominent in abortion access debates. As the procedure came under increasing attack nationwide, reproductive rights supporters mobilized Democrats and allies to stand up more forcefully for abortion access, and challenged the idea that some abortions — like in the event of rape or incest — are more worthy than others.

Rather than accept the “safe, legal, and rare” messaging popularized by Bill Clinton in the 1990s, celebrities, lawmakers, and activists have encouraged amplifying abortion stories, even, or especially, less sympathetic ones. Activists have also emphasized that messages about a “woman and her doctor” could diminish the reproductive agency of the pregnant woman herself. As feminist writer Rebecca Traister put it earlier this week, “It’s at the heart of the attitude that a person who can be pregnant… cannot simply get access to that procedure by their own damn self, without consultation or permission from anyone.”

The issue now is that, although a majority of American voters have repeatedly said they believe Roe should be upheld, roughly one-third of that majority personally opposes abortion. Those who believe abortion should be legal only in some cases primarily cite rape, incest, or a threat to a woman’s life.

Navigator Research, a group that works to provide messaging guidance to progressives, including Planned Parenthood, has conducted a few surveys on reproductive rights over the last few months: one in April before the leak of the draft Dobbs decision, one in May after it, and one following the Supreme Court’s final ruling. They found that respondents found a few consequences of the ruling especially concerning and believable: that women would have to seek unsafe abortions and that victims of rape and incest would be forced to give birth.

These ideological tensions between reproductive activists and other self-identified pro-choice people were not of huge concern when Roe was the law and defending the decision was a collective rallying point. But it makes building a coalition in a post-Roe world a more delicate balance.”