The collision between the two sides might make you believe that we have two well-defined sides when it comes to the issue of abortion. And while there is clearly some consistency, abortion is a rather tricky issue because it’s not clear how many in the middle actually feel about it.
Depending on how you ask about abortion rights, Americans are either overwhelmingly in favor of them or they are split down the middle.
So if you’re left a little confused about where Americans stand on abortion rights, that’s understandable.
The clearest takeaway is that there are some Americans who are clearly on either side of the divide, while for many it isn’t as clearly defined. How the question is phrased definitely matters. It’s not entirely clear that Democrats or Republicans have the upper hand in the abortion debate.
These data points might suggest Democrats and abortion rights activists have the upper hand in the abortion debate.
But other polling and Republicans’ ability to continue passing anti-abortion laws suggest that it’s not a clear-cut win.
Another way to think about the abortion debate is to declare oneself as either “pro-choice” (i.e. pro-abortion rights) or “pro-life” (i.e. anti-abortion). This is the way politicians will often label themselves, as will groups on the different sides of the abortion debate. It’s the pro-abortion-rights group “NARAL Pro-Choice America” and the anti-abortion “March for Life.”
Respondents in that same poll, however, were against overturning Roe by nearly 3 to 1. This was even though respondents were told that Roe allowed abortions during the first three months of pregnancy.
These two views are, at first glance, incongruent with each other. You’d expect more opposition to a ruling that allowed for fewer restrictions on abortion. Yet it’s pretty clear looking at the polling that the shift was in large part driven by Republican voters reacting positively to their party pushing and passing the law. Opposition to Roe was about 27 points lower among Republicans (43%) than support for the new abortion law ban (70%). Among Democrats, opposition to Roe was only about 13 points lower than support for the new law.
Another issue is for abortion rights activists nationwide is that it’s not entirely clear what the about 35% of Americans who say abortion should “mostly be legal” mean by “mostly.” Does that mean they believe abortion is a choice always left up to a woman and her doctor? Perhaps not.
When Gallup asked Americans about whether a first trimester abortion should be allowed for “any reason,” support dropped from 60% to 45%. Now, obviously, “any reason” is the loosest definition. Still, it shows that even first trimester abortion support is subject to the wording of the question.
When asked whether abortions should be allowed for pregnancy resulting from “rape or incest,” Americans’ support goes up to 77%. The Georgia bill allows for this exception, which could explain partially why opposition to it drops compared with opposition to Roe. (Alabama’s new law does not.) Questions about Roe generally say it’s a constitutionally given right, though they usually don’t say that women can have an abortion “for any reason.”