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Protesters from Occupy Providence, who staged a controversial counter-protest to an anti-abortion rally at the State House on Jan. 26, 2012, were the focus of a Feb. 3 appearance by Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, on WPRO radio.
"They came to disrupt and shout down our rally," Bracy said. "They claim to represent the 99 percent. Apparently they haven't seen the polls that show over half of Americans identify themselves as being pro-life. And they decided that they're about taking a stand for abortion, for public funding for abortion and they're about shouting down the pro-life movement."
Do opinion polls show that more than half of Americans identify themselves as "pro-life" instead of "pro-choice" -- the terms abortion opponents and abortion rights supporters use to describe themselves?
When we asked Bracy for the source of his numbers, he sent us to a 2009 Gallup Poll in which 51 percent of respondents identified themselves as "pro-life" and 42 percent said they were "pro-choice." That was a reversal from 2008, when 50 percent identified themselves as "pro-choice" versus 44 percent as "pro-life."
It was the first time that abortion opponents have had a majority since Gallup started asking respondents, "would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life."
But since then, the percentage in the "pro-life" category has dipped below 50 percent and hasn't recovered.
By May 2011, those identifying themselves as "pro-life’ were back in the minority, 49-45 percent but with a 4-point margin of error. In the most recent Gallup poll, conducted in July, it was a dead heat: 47-47.
"We did see a shift from the more pro-choice view which prevailed for much of the 1990s and 2000s after Obama took office in 2009, which has softened a bit since then to a more even divide," Jeff Jones, Gallup Poll managing editor, said through a spokeswoman.
"The variation we have seen the last two years is due to sampling error, which tends to be a bit more of a factor when we are looking at things with a basically 50-50 split as we see here. I generally would say Americans have been evenly divided on abortion since July 2009."
Also, the margin of error increased when Gallup began calling cell phones in 2008. It used to be plus or minus 3 points. Now it's plus or minus 4 points.
Thus, the margin hasn't been large enough for either side to claim a majority since that May 2009, survey.
We also checked with PollingReport.com, which logs abortion poll results going back to the 1990s.
The only other survey that has posed a similar question, albeit with slightly different wording, is a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll that has asked people if they are "more pro-life or more pro-choice." There, again, more people called themselves "pro-life" beginning in 2009.
The highest "pro-life" score in that poll was 50 percent, in January 2011 (the most recent), with a margin of error of 2 percentage points. With 42 percent saying that they are "pro-choice," you could say that the Americans with a clear opinion are in the "pro-life" camp, but Bracy didn't word his comment that way.
Bracy said he was using the 2009 data because that was what stuck in his head, and joked, "Is it 2012 already?"
Barth Bracy said the polls "show over half of Americans identify themselves as being pro-life."
To us, that means greater than 50 percent of the population now feel that way.
That was true for one Gallup poll that is now nearly three years out of date. Although 51 percent in that survey said they were "pro-life," the level of support has dipped a bit in subsequent surveys.
Gallup frequently polls people on this question, and its polls show that anti-abortion advocates have clearly gained ground since the mid-1990s, when fewer than 40 percent of Americans identified themselves as "pro-life."
Given the margin of error, the polls reveal a fairly even divide between the two sides. But the most recent polls show that, despite some surges of support, it is not correct to say that more than half of Americans call themselves "pro-life."
We rule Bracy's statement as Mostly False.
Gallup's next survey on the question will be released in May.
(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)
630WPRO.com, "John DePetro Show: Witnesses describe Occupiers throwing condoms at children," Feb. 3, 2012, accessed Feb. 7, 2012
Interview and e-mail, Barth Bracy, executive director, Rhode Island Right to Life, Feb. 7, 2012
E-mails, Alyssa Brown, spokeswoman, Gallup, Feb. 9, 2012
Gallup.com, "More Americans 'Pro-Life' Than 'Pro-Choice' for First Time," May 15, 2009;
"Americans Still Split Along 'Pro-Choice,' 'Pro-Life' Lines," May 23, 2011; and "Abortion," undated, all accessed Feb. 7, 2012
PollingReport.com, "Abortion and Birth Control," undated, accessed Feb. 7, 2012
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