Attitudes about abortion
An AEI Public Opinion Study

Reuters

Pro-life demonstrators hold a banner as they prepare to march during the Ninth Annual Walk for Life West Coast rally in San Francisco, California, January 26, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Most Americans believe simultaneously that abortion is murder or morally wrong and that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice.

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  • Americans support first-trimester abortions. They oppose second- and third-trimester ones.

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  • Gallup’s May 2013 poll showed that 45 percent called themselves pro-choice and 48 percent pro-life.

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The abortion issue commands enormous media coverage in elections, in legislative actions, and in court decisions. Yet, as this comprehensive collection of polls from the 1970s to today shows, the attention does not seem to be moving the public opinion needle. Americans’ views remain consistent and deeply ambivalent. Among the key findings of this updated AEI Public Opinion Study:

  • In the past five years, no more than 1 percent of Americans have mentioned abortion as the most important problem facing the country, according to Gallup.
  • Most people place themselves in the center in this debate, believing that abortion should be legal in some circumstances. In the most recent iteration of a question Gallup has asked more than 50 times since 1975, 25 percent said it should be legal in all circumstances while 20 percent said it should be illegal in all. But 54 percent put themselves in the middle, choosing “some circumstances.”
  • Most Americans believe simultaneously that abortion is murder or morally wrong and that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice.
  • Americans do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Around 3 in 10 in a 2013 Pew Research Center poll said they wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade; 63 percent said they did not.
  • Americans support first-trimester abortions. They oppose second- and third-trimester ones. They support restrictions such as parental consent and spousal notification.
  • Despite the intense media coverage in 2012, clear majorities of Americans said they could live with candidates who didn’t share their views on abortion. 
  • The two major pollsters that ask people whether they are pro-choice or pro-life show narrow divisions on the question. Gallup’s May 2013 poll showed that 45 percent called themselves pro-choice and 48 percent pro-life. In Fox News' April 2013 poll of registered voters, 49 percent called themselves pro-choice and 44 percent pro-life.  

 

Attitudes about abortion by American Enterprise Institute

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About the Author

 

Karlyn
Bowman
  • Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, NAFTA and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women's attitudes. In addition, Ms. Bowman has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States and writes a weekly column for Forbes.com.
  • Phone: 2028625910
    Email: kbowman@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Andrew Rugg
    Phone: 2028625917
    Email: andrew.rugg@aei.org

 

Jennifer K.
Marsico
  • Jennifer K. Marsico is a senior research associate at AEI, working in the Political Corner. Her research focuses on elections and election reform, as well as government continuity issues. She is a visiting fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. She is also a contributor to the AEIdeas blog, and has also written for many outside print and online publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and Roll Call. Ms. Marsico serves as assistant director of the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission, and has contributed to recent studies on Supreme Court continuity, voter registration modernization, and civic participation in the digital age.

  • Phone: 202.862.5899
    Email: jennifer.marsico@aei.org

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