There is a lot to unpack in this Angus Reid poll of abortion in Canada, but first I want to draw your attention to this contradiction:
When informed about existing regulations on abortion, three-in-ten Canadians (30%) endorse the status-quo: Women being able to have an abortion at any time during their pregnancy, with no restrictions whatsoever.
When asked about their personal feeling toward abortion, 40 per cent of respondents say the procedure should be permitted in all cases, whereas 31 per cent say it should be allowed, but with some restrictions.
To be clear, asked about their personal opinion, four in ten Canadians support abortion without limits and when told that the law does not contain a single restriction on abortion, three in ten Canadians support the status quo. I can’t come up with a logical explanation for this (other than perhaps Canadian deference to authority, the authority being the law), but to some degree it raises doubts about the other findings.
If there is a takeaway from this poll it is that Canadians are still deeply divided on the issue. We do not have, as Jean Chretien claimed a decade ago, “social peace” on the question, nor is there any consensus of how to best deal with abortion. The majority of Canadians take a more “nuanced” approach to abortion than the binary debate as framed by the media and many activists on both sides of the issue. Most Canadians don’t agree with the status quo of limitless abortion and both sides can (to some degree justifiably) claim the public is with them: abortion supporters can point to the fact that just 5% of Canadians want no abortion, while pro-lifers can note that just 61% of Canadians support at least some restrictions on abortion and thus stand in opposition to the status quo. The problem for pr0-lifers looking for a political answer to restricting abortion is that as long as the question is framed as a total ban or total access, the numbers favour a permissive law. The challenge is to narrow the debate on specific aspects of abortion and build coalitions of support for restrictions. I made the case for incrementalism back in 2006. My bottom line: “Any restriction on abortion that becomes a political issue would be the wedge for widespread discussion about abortion.” That’s a good thing from a pro-life perspective.