In a recent Gallup poll, 48 percent of Americans identified as pro-life, and 45 percent as pro-choice. If you think that signals the end of the war on children, think again.

In the same poll, 49 percent of Americans said they consider abortion morally wrong, but only 31 percent said that abortion should be illegal, 29 percent that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and 27 percent that abortion laws should be stricter. In short, over one-third of pro-lifers are not so pro-life, supporting the legal status of a practice they deem morally wrong.

Another poll, by the Huffington Post, asked people similar questions: whether abortion was morally wrong and whether government should pass restrictions on abortion. Stunningly, only 24 percent (one-half of the pro-life percentage!) responded affirmatively to both questions.

Given such moral inner conflict, is it any wonder that, forty years post-Roe, 1.21 million abortions were performed in 2011, only six percent less than one decade earlier? If you’re wondering how pro-lifers can be so conflicted, pollster Anna Greenberg provides some insight.

Rationalizing morality down

In interactions with various focus groups, Greenberg found that people, even those who consider themselves pro-life, “can almost always think of some set of conditions where it would be okay to have an abortion.”

Indeed, if there is one thing humans are adept at, it is rationalizing morality down. It goes something like this: Imagine an exceptional circumstance to a moral issue and subject it to a moral calculus until what is morally prohibitive becomes morally neutral, if not morally acceptable.

In the abortion rights debate, those exceptions are rape, incest, and health of the mother—circumstances with high empathy quotients that become astronomical when imagining a wife, daughter, sister, or oneself as a victim. People who poll pro-life and yet support some form of legalized abortion have concluded it would be unfair, unloving, or cruel for a woman to have to bear a child under those conditions.

Often their reasoning is based on an alluring form of logic seemingly based on the Golden Rule: Loving my neighbor as myself means sparing her from any consequence I would want [my wife, daughter, sister, myself] to be spared from.

A factor further tipping the scale is that because anywhere between 30 percent and 40 percent of women have an abortion by the time they reach age 45, nearly everyone knows a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member who has had an abortion. Thus, a pro-lifer who deems abortion, in the abstract, as morally wrong, can be inclined to deem it less so when circumstances are real and close to home.

But is it? Continue reading here.