A recent article in The Washington Post made the claim that abortion restrictions recently introduced and passed in pro-life states (such as The Texas Heartbeat Act and Florida’s new law that restricts abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy) are “well outside the mainstream of America.” But polling has consistently shown that Americans largely support such restrictions on abortion when they are educated about what they entail.
In the April 14 piece for the Post, writer Amber Phillips argues that most Americans support abortion access, based on a 2021 Washington Post-ABC News poll asking U.S. adults, “Do you think the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade or overturn it?” That poll appears to show that most Americans want Roe v. Wade to be upheld (60%), but it failed to explain what it would mean for Roe v. Wade to be upheld versus overturned.
Most Americans don’t realize that Roe v. Wade doesn’t simply “uphold a woman’s right to abortion up until about 24 weeks of pregnancy” as Phillips claims, but that, along with its sister case Doe v. Bolton, it allows abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason — including financial reasons. Overturning it wouldn’t outlaw abortion but would allow states to make their own abortion laws. A previous analysis showed that when poll respondents are asked about Roe v. Wade, the majority don’t even understand what Roe v. Wade actually allows regarding abortion. Therefore, asking the public whether they support a court case they don’t even understand accomplishes little.
Together, Roe and Doe forced states to legalize abortion through 24 weeks for any reason, and then allowed states to restrict abortion after that point if they so choose. Because some states have chosen to enact zero restrictions on abortion, it is effectively legal up until birth in those states.
The flawed Washington Post-ABC News poll also asked, “A state law in Texas authorizes private citizens anywhere in the country to sue anyone who performs or assists in an abortion in Texas after about six weeks of pregnancy. Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold or reject this law?” According to the results, 65% of Americans think the law should be rejected — but those answers weren’t based on when abortion is restricted, but on how that law is enforced. Those are two very different questions.
Such skewed polling can never be relied on to reveal the truth.
Instead, look to the polls that focus on the details. A Rasmussen poll asked likely voters about The Texas Heartbeat Act: “The Supreme Court has refused to block a new Texas law that effectively prohibits most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Do you support or oppose the Texas law?” This more specifically-focused question revealed that 46% of those who responded (the plurality of those polled) agreed with the Texas law restricting abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy. Forty-three percent opposed the law.
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Likewise, a poll commissioned by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston and the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University found that when respondents were specifically told that the Texas law involves restricting abortion once a preborn child’s heartbeat can be detected, 55% said they supported the law. Forty-five percent opposed it. However, prior to learning the specifics of the law, 69% had said it was too restrictive. Having the facts matters.
In addition, a Wall Street Journal poll found that more people support a restriction on abortion at 15 weeks than oppose it. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they support a 15-week abortion restriction while 43% said they oppose it.
“This recent Wall Street Journal poll adds to the body of data which shows that people support legal protections of preborn children after 15 weeks gestation. Two out of three polls conducted by Marquette University Law School since September of 2021 show such laws enjoy majority support. Furthermore, six Gallup polls taken since 1996 all found that at least 65% of Americans think abortion should be ‘generally illegal’ during the second trimester,” Dr. Michael New, an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), told Townhall.
That Marquette University Law School poll revealed more about why some polls can make it appear that Americans support unrestricted abortion. In a nationwide survey of 1,004 adults in the period November 1-10, the poll found that “Despite the intensity of political arguments over Roe for nearly 50 years, 32% say they haven’t heard anything or haven’t heard enough about this issue to have an opinion.”
As pointed out by National Right to Life, this is why abortion proponents use euphemisms and strategic marketing to keep up the falsehood that preborn children are not persons and that abortion is a right, while working to keep Americans in the dark about how expansive Roe v. Wade allowed abortion laws to be. While Americans continue to erroneously believe that Roe legalized abortion in the first trimester, Roe and Doe allowed abortion up until birth. Since most Americans oppose that, most Americans oppose Roe v. Wade.
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