Surprise! Abortion limits are rather popular, survey says after Roe v Wade overturned

Pregnant doctor Credit Photographeeeu Shutterstock CNA

Abortion limits are surprisingly popular, according to the Harris Poll: half of Americans say abortion should be legal no later than six weeks into pregnancy, and a strong majority say abortion should be legal no later than 15 weeks—the same limit as the Mississippi law considered in the U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade.

A plurality of survey respondents, 37%, backed strict abortion laws, allowing abortion only “in cases of rape or incest.” This news comes from the Harvard Center for American Political Studies / Harris Poll’s June 2022 national survey of registered voters.

Another 12% of respondents backed abortion only up to six weeks into pregnancy, and 23% backed abortion up to 15 weeks. Some respondents, 18%, wanted abortion legal through 23 weeks, while legal abortion through nine months of pregnancy drew 10% support.

If the most restrictive views are combined, almost half of respondents supported abortion no later than six weeks into pregnancy, and 72% backed abortion no later than 15 weeks.

Though the Democratic Party has a strong pro-abortion plank and few of its national political figures are openly pro-life, the Harris Poll reported that 60% of Democrats said abortion should be legal no more than 15 weeks into pregnancy. This compares to 84% of Republicans and 70% of independent or other voters. 

Women favored slightly more restrictive laws, with 75% backing legal abortion no later than 15 weeks, compared to 69% of men.

The 15-week mark is particularly significant because the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision concerned a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. 

In a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, five Supreme Court justices voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision which had mandated legalization of abortion nationwide. Chief Justice Roberts filed a concurrence saying the court should have allowed the Mississippi ban, but reconsidered Roe at a later time.

In Roe, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban abortion after viability, about 24-28 weeks into pregnancy. The 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision modified that precedent, allowing some regulation of pre-viability abortions. 

Surveys of American opinion on whether Roe v. Wade should have been overturned can fail to capture whether respondents  believe their preferred abortion restrictions and policies were allowed by the Supreme Court before the 2022 Dobbs decision. 

“Do you support or oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade, which allows each state to decide its own standards for abortion instead of a set right?” the Harvard / Harris Poll asked.

In answer, 55% of respondents said they opposed the decision to overturn, while 45% said they supported it.

A different pollster, Rasmussen Reports said its survey of likely voters found 50% of respondents approved of the Supreme Court decision, including 38% who strongly approve. Another 45% disapproved, including 38% strongly disapproving. Rasmussen’s online survey of 1,000 likely voters took place June 26-27 and claims a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Harvard / Harris Poll surveyed 1,308 registered voters June 28-29.

With Roe v. Wade overturned, individual states may now restrict or ban abortion. Whatever respondents’ views of the Supreme Court, many seem to agree with the outcome of the Dobbs decision.

A plurality of the Harris Poll respondents, 44%, thought state legislatures should set abortion standards. Only 25% thought Supreme Court justices should set abortion standards, while 31% favored Congressional action.

While 69% said the Supreme Court had “created turmoil” with its Dobbs decision, the decision appeared to have a neutral impact on professed midterm votes. Among Harris Poll respondents, 36% said they were more likely to vote Republican, 36% said they were more likely to vote Democrat, and 29% said the decision had no effect.

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Some large businesses have drawn controversy for announcing they would help pay for employees to travel for abortion. However, only a large minority of survey respondents voiced opposition to this policy. About 60% of respondents said they supported businesses that said they would pay expenses for interstate travel for employees who want to have abortions, while 40% said they opposed this practice.

Like the Harris Poll, other surveys have found disagreement with Roe v. Wade. 

In January 2022, a Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll survey reported that more than 60% of Americans disagree with the main holding of Roe v. Wade, that legal abortion is a federal constitutional right. Among its respondents, 44% said that the Supreme Court should leave abortion up to each individual state and 17% said the court should make abortion illegal.

The news cycle can shape public responses and self-perceptions on abortion policy.

A Gallup survey released in early June, amid controversy over a leaked draft of the Dobbs decision, said that only 39% of respondents identified as pro-life, the lowest since 1996, while 56% identified as pro-choice, the highest since 1995. Despite this apparent trend, a May Gallup survey still reported that 55% of Americans think that abortion should be ‘generally illegal’ during the second trimester.

Some pro-abortion rights activists also face changes due to news trends and current events. Many now disfavor the slogan “My Body, My Choice” because of its use by critics of mandatory vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic, Kaiser Health News reports.

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