Do Roughly 40% of Americans Agree with Palin on Abortion?



While many Democrats and women find Palin's support for criminalizing abortion to be outrageous, a recent survey by the Pew organization finds that roughly 40% of Americans generally agree with her views.

Combined, 41% of Americans answer that abortion should be outlawed in either in all cases (15%) or most cases (26%). Among White evangelicals, who Pew measures at roughly 30% of the American public, this support shoots up to a combined 62% (19% all cases, 43% most cases).

UPDATE: One problem in comparing this poll to Palin's specific views is the unclear nature of what counts as "most cases" for respondents. As commenters below note, Palin's position is to only allow abortion in cases where there is threat to the mother's life, but not for incest or rape. Few polls separate out the conditions differentiating between rape and incest and threat to the mother. Below are two additional examples from PollingReport.com.

Time magazine, August 2008

Which of these positions best represents your views about abortion? A woman should be able to get an abortion if she wants one, no matter what the reason, up until the time the fetus is viable, that is, can live on its own (46% support). 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 (40%). Abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, even if the mother's life is in danger (10%)."


NBC News Sept. 28

"Which comes closest to your view on abortion: abortion should always be legal (25% support); should be legal most of the time (24% support); should be made illegal except in cases of rape , incest and to save the mother's life (37%); or abortion should be made illegal without any exceptions? (10%)"


Perhaps the best survey items on the specific conditions shaping support for abortion rights have been asked in polling sponsored by Fox News. In this case, we see that when the specific conditions of threat to a mother or circumstance of pregnancy is primed in survey respondents minds, support for abortion rights shifts to 70%.

FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. Oct. 23-24, 2007.N=900 registered voters nationwide.

"Please tell me if you think abortion should be legal or illegal in each of the following situations..."

"If the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest"
70% Legal 21% Illegal 9% Not sure

"If the pregnancy puts the mother's life at risk"
73% Legal 15% Illegal 12% Unsure

"If the baby has a fatal birth defect"
53% Legal 30% Illegal 18% Unsure

"If the pregnancy is unwanted"
39% Legal 50% Illegal 11% Unsure

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.