Poll Shows Most Americans Favor Limits on Abortion

Poll Shows Most Americans Favor Limits on Abortion
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Poll Shows Most Americans Favor Limits on Abortion
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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For more than a decade, the annual Marist poll on abortion has found that the overwhelming majority of Americans – usually three-quarters or more – want abortion restricted to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy.

Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, this annual survey has also highlighted the following fact: Using polling questions that measure the labels Americans choose for themselves – such as pro-choice – will not actually reveal what they want in terms of abortion policy. While the majority of those who identify as pro-life can reliably be expected to support restrictions on abortion, so can most of those who identify as pro-choice.

In some years, including this one, more Americans may identify as pro-choice than pro-life, but more than six in 10 of those who say they are pro-choice (61 percent) join the three-quarters of all Americans in wanting abortion restricted to – again, at most – the first trimester. So do about six in 10 Democrats (59 percent), eight in 10 independents (78 percent) and nine in 10 Republicans (92 percent).

By giving the American people greater choice in the questions the Marist poll asks, and by asking about policy options rather than focusing on the labels, this survey has been able to build a more accurate measure of what they really want on abortion policy.

This year, we also found that the same holds true of opinions on how the Supreme Court should rule when it revisits Roe v. Wade. Recent polls that ask whether Americans want Roe v. Wade upheld or overturned report that Americans support the 1973 decision. But when you ask Americans how they think the court should rule on abortion – and don’t use the Roe label –  everything changes.

Almost two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say they want the Supreme Court to revisit Roe in a substantial way. This includes 16 percent who want the court to rule that abortion should be illegal, and about half (49 percent) who say that restrictions should be allowed as determined by each state. Restoring a state-based system would, in fact, overturn Roe – as would a ban on abortion. So nearly two-thirds want the court to rule to allow restrictions that would de facto overturn that decision.

Fewer than a third (30 percent) want the court to allow unrestricted abortion.

Interestingly, those who identify as pro-choice divide on this issue. While 49 percent would allow unrestricted abortion, 47 percent would either allow abortion regulation to be decided by the states (44 percent) or would ban it outright (3 percent).

The fact is that the majority of the American people are not looking for a nationwide policy of unrestricted abortion. Three-quarters want to allow common-sense restrictions on abortion, and almost two-thirds want the court to allow or mandate restrictions.

The United States is an outlier on abortion. We are one of only seven countries that allows abortion after 20 weeks. Even 46 years on, the American people still haven’t been won over to the court’s reasoning in Roe or to its effects.

Now, in contrast to the extreme unrestricted abortion position taken by many politicians, the polling shows that Americans of every political stripe – including many pro-choice Americans – have staked out a middle ground. This overwhelming majority want to allow certain restrictions, and it wants to move away from the unregulated nature of our country’s abortion laws.

Their voices deserve to be heard.

As I wrote almost a decade ago in my book “Beyond a House Divided,” this middle ground should be the starting point for our national discussion. When almost two-thirds of Americans want the court to produce a ruling on abortion that is at odds with Roe and its legacy, it is simply disingenuous to argue that the case is settled law.

Carl Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus, a New York Times best-selling author, and a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

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