Major error: FOX's Garrett forwarded pro-life agenda in misreporting abortion pollJanuary 26, 2005 10:46 AM EST ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
On the January 24 edition of FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, general assignment reporter Major Garrett incorrectly reported that a New York Times/CBS News poll "shows only a third [of Americans] want to keep access to abortion as it is now." But the poll in question did not provide an option for those who favor current abortion law; it gave only the following options after asking respondents "Which of these comes closest to your view" on abortion: "Should be generally available," "Available with stricter limits," or "Should not be permitted." Garrett reported the numbers while covering a pro-life rally protesting the 32nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The poll shows that 34 percent of respondents believe abortion "Should be generally available," but that is not the same as keeping "access to abortion as it is now." As Garrett himself accurately noted moments later on Special Report, "current statistics show that abortions are not available in 87 percent of the nation's counties." Other restrictions include the ban on late-term abortions; parental notification and consent laws; and restrictions on abortions for those who rely on the federal government for their health care.
According to a list of polls compiled by the nonpartisan National Journal's Poll Track (subscription required), three polls in 2004 specifically asked the question that Garrett falsely claimed the Times/CBS poll asked: whether Americans want to keep abortion law as it currently stands. All three polls showed majorities opposed to new restrictions on access to abortion. Fifty-eight percent of respondents either opposed or strongly opposed "Making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion," according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted February 11-16; an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted March 6-8 indicated that respondents opposed "tougher restrictions on abortion" by 50 percent to 43 percent; and a National Annenberg Election Survey conducted September 21-26 found that respondents opposed "laws making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion" by 55 percent to 39 percent.
Poll Track shows that pollsters received different results when they asked questions about abortion law without referring to current regulations. Two ABC News/Washington Post polls (one conducted May 20-23 and one conducted December 16-19) showed that 54 percent and 55 percent of respondents, respectively, believe abortion should be legal in "all" or "most" cases. Two Los Angeles Times polls (one conducted June 5-8 and one conducted July 17-21) found that 57 percent and 51 percent of respondents, respectively, believe abortion should be "Illegal, except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother" or "illegal without exceptions." A TIME magazine poll conducted October 14-15 indicated that 45 percent of respondents believe "abortion should only be legal in certain circumstances, such as when a woman's health is endangered or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest" and 9 percent believe it should be illegal in "all circumstances, even if the mother's life is in danger."
Garrett described the New York Times/CBS News poll -- which was conducted November 18-21 -- as the "most recent poll" on abortion. But numerous others, including a new New York Times/CBS News poll which had similar results, have since been published.