According to a new Marist poll out today, more than three-quarters of Americans support significant restrictions on abortion, including a majority of Americans who describe themselves as pro-choice.
The survey was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and surveyed more than 1,000 adults in the U.S. in mid January, and it has a margin of error of 3.5 points. For more than a decade, the group has commissioned Marist to conduct a public-opinion survey on abortion each January ahead of the annual March for Life, and its nuanced questions tend to give useful insight into Americans’ views on abortion policy.
While Americans who call themselves pro-choice (53 percent) outnumber those who describe themselves as pro-life (43 percent), most Americans believe that abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy, if it’s permitted at all. A slim majority of respondents said abortion either shouldn’t be permitted at all or should be legal only in cases where a mother’s life is in danger or when she has been the victim of rape or incest.
Just 15 percent of Americans say they support keeping abortion available to women at any point during pregnancy, and less than one-third of pro-choice Americans say the same. In fact, a majority of pro-choice respondents said they would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, the so-called hard cases, or not at all.
Though supporters of unlimited legal abortion often claim that an overwhelming majority of Americans supports the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the Marist poll results suggest otherwise. Almost two-thirds of respondents said that if the Court reconsiders Roe, it should either make abortion illegal or allow restrictions on abortions as determined by each state. Less than one-third said the Court should maintain the position that abortion should be legal without any restrictions.
Interestingly, 20 percent of Democrats who were surveyed described themselves as pro-life, despite the fact that the Democratic Party has become increasingly in favor of permissive abortion laws.
Nearly six in ten Americans say they oppose using taxpayer money to underwrite abortion procedures, and more than one-third of pro-choice respondents agreed. Thirty-one percent of Democrats said they oppose federal funding of abortion, even as Democrats in Congress and President Joe Biden have pledged to eliminate the Hyde amendment, which prevents the government from using entitlement spending to directly reimburse providers for abortion procedures.
Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) are opposed to using U.S. aid money to fund abortions overseas. Under past Republican presidents, the Mexico City policy has prohibited federal aid from going to groups that provide or promote abortions around the globe. Biden has promised to undo that policy and is reported to be planning an executive order to do so in coming days.
But according to this survey, a majority of Americans in Biden’s own party disagree with him. A slight majority (55 percent) of Democrats said they do not want the U.S. to fund abortion globally, and nearly two-thirds of pro-choice Americans agreed. Independent voters feel even more strongly: Eighty-five percent said they oppose U.S. funding of overseas abortions.
Finally, the poll suggests that most Americans, including those who are generally supportive of legal abortion, tend to oppose abortions chosen after an unborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Seventy percent of respondents said they oppose such abortions, and a majority of pro-choice respondents and Democrats agreed.
The results are especially interesting when paired with a second poll out today, conducted by The Polling Company on behalf of Students for Life of America (SFLA). The poll surveyed 800 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34, and found that most young voters disagree with the status quo on abortion policy.
For instance, less than 20 percent of respondents to that poll said that abortion should be legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, sometimes funded by the taxpayer, which is currently permitted under existing jurisprudence. In fact, when told that Roe allows abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, 57 percent of these young voters said they oppose Roe compared with 30 percent who support it.
More than 70 percent, meanwhile, said they would support placing limits of some kind on abortion. About half of these younger voters believe that taxpayer money should not fund abortions whether here in the U.S. or overseas. Perhaps most remarkable, nearly half of respondents said they support prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can take place as early as six weeks’ gestation. Heartbeat bills were the focus of controversy in 2019, when several pro-life states attempted to enact these restrictions; some polling at the time suggested that the public was supportive of these policies after hearing about the science of fetal heartbeats.
As it does every year, the Marist poll — along with SFLA’s survey of young voters — reveals the flaws in the wider landscape of public-opinion polling, which usually fails to ask specific questions about what abortion restrictions voters might favor. Instead, most surveys offer only vague categories for self-sorting, asking respondents to say whether they are supportive of abortion “in all or most cases” or opposed to abortion “in all or most cases.” Such polling fails to capture the complexity of the current state of abortion policy or Americans’ views on how it should change.