Saturday, August 17, 2013

Townhall hates situational ethics

Scare quotes say it all, don't they? From a PowerPoint showing how every time somebody tells a lie in the Old Testament there's some excuse for it but lying is never justified. Missing Genesis 2:15 to 3:5, where YHWH falsely tells Adam the fruit of the tree of knowledge is a poison that will kill him within 24 hours and the Serpent calls him on it.
Townhall is touting a new Pew poll with the following headline:

Pew: “Only 15% of the Public Thinks That Having an Abortion is Morally Acceptable”

Well, hm. That's actually 38% who believe that having an abortion is either (a) morally acceptable or (b) not a moral issue at all. Still, 49% say that abortion is [jump]
morally unacceptable. That's harsh. And isn't 13% undecided kind of a lot?

Not only that, but there was something a couldn't put my finger on that seemed wrong about this list of alternatives; I wouldn't have felt comfortable answering it myself, a hallmark of a poorly designed survey and not Pew style. What was the problem?

To find out, you need to go beyond Pew's news story to the report itself, and the questions they used. They included a fourth possibility which was, as it happens, the one I would have preferred to give: Depends on the situation. When you add those numbers in, you get a total of 47% believing that abortion can be morally acceptable, compared to 49% who believe it can't: a difference that's within the margin of error.

You also get a picture of moral opposition to abortion declining over the past seven years, from a majority (52%) in 2006 to less than that now, though I couldn't say whether it's large enough to be significant.

Why Pew's news story gave a distorted version of its own results I don't know. Maybe it was one of those unpaid interns wrote it up. Why Townhall turned that distortion into a lie, on the other hand, is clear: that's what they do.

A more useful picture comes from Gallup, on what Americans think the law should be: 78% believe abortion should be legal at least sometimes, with a solid majority of 52% favoring situationalism.

If you examine the situationalists you'll find a lot of people in the first instance who will say abortion should be legal only in cases of rape or incest, which is not theologically coherent (murder isn't murder if the victim's father is a rapist?), but deeper down I suspect it's what it's always been: abortion is OK if I need it, or my girlfriend or wife does. And the absolutist opponents are people who are indifferent to women's needs.

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