Most Americans Don’t Want Roe v. Wade Repealed — But Many Also Support Restrictions On Abortion

Most Americans Don’t Want Roe v. Wade Repealed — But Many Also Support Restrictions On AbortionMay 21, 2021

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in what is sure to be a high-profile case involving a Mississippi law that challenges the constitutional right to abortion as established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. At issue is the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about two months earlier than Roe and subsequent rulings, such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, allow.

This is the first time in a long time that the court has agreed to hear a direct challenge to Roe, and it’s still early yet — oral arguments won’t be until at least the fall — which means we don’t have a lot of new polling on how Americans feel about abortion or this specific case. We do know from previous polling, though, that public opinion on abortion paints a complicated picture. Most Americans don’t want to repeal Roe, but many are comfortable with some restrictions on abortion earlier than currently allowed under Roe.

On the question of whether the court should uphold Roe, the polling is clear: Americans want the court to keep it. These polls are all from October, but they largely tell the same story. Sixty-six percent of likely voters told Quinnipiac University that they agreed with the Roe decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion. Meanwhile, 62 percent of registered voters told ABC News/The Washington Post that the Supreme Court should uphold Roe; 24 percent said they wanted the ruling overturned. Sixty-two percent of likely voters told Fox News that Roe should stand as is. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 69 percent of Americans did not want the high court to overturn Roe.

Gallup, which has been polling Americans’ views on abortion since at least 1975, has consistently found that at least a plurality favor keeping abortion legal — but as the chart below shows, most still think abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. However, no more than about a fifth of Americans say abortion should be illegal under all circumstances. 

Pew Research Center found similar results in April, when a majority of Americans — 59 percent — said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 39 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. Conservative Republicans and white evangelicals continue to be the two groups most opposed to abortion, as 78 percent and 77 percent, respectively, told Pew that it should be illegal in all or most cases.

And while partisan divides over abortion persist (Democrats tend to favor keeping it legal, while Republicans tend to not), the issue may not be as politicized as it’s often made out to be. For example, Gallup found in May 2018 that most Americans opposed abortion during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, though it should be noted that abortion in the last trimester is exceedingly rare according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Per Gallup, 81 percent of respondents said abortion should be illegal in the last three months of pregnancy, while 65 percent said it should be illegal in the second trimester. A third (34 percent) said it should be illegal in the first three months.

On the surface, that means many Americans may not be opposed to the Mississippi law now in front of the Supreme Court, as it seeks to impose abortion restrictions at 15 weeks, which falls in the second trimester of pregnancy. However, the wording of these polling questions doesn’t capture the fact that the law directly challenges what Roe established as fetal viability, or the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb — generally considered about 24 weeks. As a result, there’s often a disconnect between people who say they don’t want to overturn Roe and people who also say they’re against abortions in the second and third trimesters, says Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University law professor who studies the history and politics of abortion law and the author of the book “Abortion and the Law in America.”

“The reason you tend to see the numbers you do with respect to [support for] Roe is because people recognize that overturning Roe means opening the door to laws potentially banning abortions early in pregnancy and banning all abortions,” said Ziegler. She added that concern over repealing Roe is less about wanting to uphold laws like the one going before the Supreme Court next term, and more about not wanting to open the door to abortion bans in the early stages of pregnancy. “People are relatively happy with the status quo, which is legal but restricted abortions,” said Ziegler. “A post-Roe world would probably not be that in a lot of states. It would be outright bans on abortion.” 

A recent report by The New York Times underscores that point, finding that abortion clinics are already few and far between, especially in the South and Midwest. Laws like the one in Mississippi, or overturning Roe itself, would likely have a disproportionate effect on women in these regions, as well as on those who are poor and don’t have easy access to nearby medical facilities.

At this point it’s too early to know how the justices will rule, but their decision will likely come next year, just in time to motivate both Republicans and Democrats to turn out for the midterms. Most recently, abortion has energized Democrats especially. A summer 2018 Pew poll — published less than three months after then-President Donald Trump nominated conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — found that Democrats were increasingly likely to say abortion was an important factor in how they would vote: 61 percent of the party’s voters said abortion was very important to their vote that year, whereas 10 years earlier, only 38 percent of Democratic voters said the same thing. That said, neither Democrats nor Republicans were particularly concerned about abortion ahead of last year’s election: Only 40 percent of registered voters overall said abortion would be a very important factor in their political decisions that year, according to Pew. A lot hinges on what the court ultimately decides, but it’s quite possible the outcome could have a real impact on the midterms.

Other polling bites

  • Despite the newest COVID-19 guidelines from the CDC, which allow those who are fully vaccinated to ditch their masks in outdoor and certain indoor settings, a majority of adults told Morning Consult they planned to keep wearing masks in most situations. According to the poll, just about half (48 percent) said they were comfortable dining outdoors without a mask, while 38 percent said the same about dining indoors at a restaurant. Just about a quarter (26 percent) said they’d feel comfortable going to concerts, sporting events or a doctor’s office without a mask.
  • Public confidence in the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine remains relatively low in the wake of the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision in April to pause administering it. According to a survey by The Economist/YouGov released on Tuesday, only 58 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans said they believed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was safe, a decline from 68 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in February.
  • According to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, just 17 percent of Americans believe race relations are better today than they were a year ago. Fielded about three weeks before the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, the poll also found that a majority of Black Americans (79 percent) agreed with President Biden that white supremacy was the “most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today,” while only 41 percent of white Americans said the same.
  • After the ousting of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her No. 3 leadership position, I teased out four ways the GOP could splinter (or stay the same). Based on new polling from The Economist/YouGov, though, most Republicans don’t seem ready to give up on Trump — and by default, Trumpism. According to the survey, only 10 percent of Republicans said they’d vote for a GOP congressional candidate in the midterms who didn’t support the former president.
  • As Republican congressional leaders voice their opposition to a bipartisan commission to independently investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a majority of Americans surveyed by Monmouth University (53 percent) said they were in favor of establishing such a commission. This includes 62 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans. There’s also widespread public support for looking into the failure of the Capitol Police to prepare for violence (81 percent), the growth of militant groups in the country (76 percent) and the role white nationalism played in the incident (70 percent).

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 52.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +12.0 percentage points.) At this time last week, 52.9 percent approved and 40.8 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +12.2 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 53.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 40.6 percent (a net approval rating of +12.8 points).

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