The Corner

Politics & Policy

Recent Gallup Survey on Abortion Offers Hope to Pro-Lifers

Pro-life signs outside the Supreme Court, June 2014. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Earlier this month, Gallup released a series of polls dealing with the issue of abortion. Nearly every year since the mid-1990s, Gallup has asked Americans whether they identify as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” In addition, beginning in 2001, Gallup has conducted annual surveys about the morality of a range of activities — including abortion.

The most recent set of Gallup polls asked respondents a wider range of questions pertaining to sanctity-of-life issues. In particular, this is the first time that a major polling group asked questions about attitudes toward abortion in cases when the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Overall, the results from the most recent poll should encourage pro-lifers, as the results seem to indicate that many Americans are willing to support greater legal protections for the preborn.

The recent Gallup survey found the percentages of Americans who identify as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” tied at 48 percent each. This is consistent with the last several years of Gallup polling, which has shown a relative stalemate in public opinion. Between 1995 and 2008, “pro-choice” outpolled “pro-life” 18 consecutive times, but since May 2009, six Gallup polls have found a “pro-life” plurality and six found a “pro-choice” plurality, along with two ties.

Meanwhile, Gallup’s recent morality survey found that 48 percent of respondents believe that abortion is immoral. Gallup has been asking questions about the morality of various practices for 18 years, and abortion is one of the few issues pertaining to sexual morality on which public opinion has remained fairly constant. The fact that public attitudes toward abortion have been fairly stable, even as people adopt more permissive views on other issues, is a testament to the successful work of pro-lifers.

Gallup also breaks down abortion-opinion trends by gender. Their data add to research showing that men’s and women’s attitudes on abortion are fairly similar — with some evidence that women are more polarized on the issue. Since the 1990s, women have been about five percentage points more likely than men to think that abortion should be legal in all circumstances. However, in nearly every poll since 1979, women were also slightly more likely than men to think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances; men were more likely to believe that abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances. Gallup presents some evidence that college-educated women are more likely to support legal abortion than college-educated men, but a range of survey questions finds that men and women have similar attitudes about both the morality and legality of abortion.

Pro-lifers should pay closest attention to the survey questions about attitudes toward abortion performed in each trimester of pregnancy. While 60 percent of respondents think that abortion should be “generally legal” during the first trimester, support falls to 28 percent in the second trimester and only 13 percent during the third trimester. The poll also finds substantive opposition to third-trimester abortions in unique circumstances for which there is typically broad public support for legal abortion. For instance, only 35 percent of respondents think a third-trimester abortion should be legal in cases when the child would be born with mental disabilities.

The Gallup survey marks the first time that a major polling group has asked about legal abortion in cases of fetal Down-syndrome diagnosis, a salient issue politically. In 2017, Ohio governor John Kasich signed legislation prohibiting abortions if the woman’s decision was influenced by her belief that her unborn child had Down syndrome. While the Ohio bill was nullified by a federal district court judge, similar legislation has been passed in other states, and more states are considering bills like it. The Gallup survey found that only 49 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal during the first trimester if the child is prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome, while only 29 percent said such abortions should be legal in the third trimester.

These Gallup data show that the U.S. regime of abortion-on-demand, throughout all nine months of pregnancy, is inconsistent with the attitudes of most Americans. Strong majorities, across a wide range of demographic groups, oppose both second- and third-trimester abortions, and abortion-on-demand does not even have majority support during the first trimester. Over the past 25 years, the pro-life movement has made significant progress in passing a variety of state-level laws to limit late-term abortions. These new polling results should encourage them to keep up the fight.

Michael J. New — Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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