The Corner

Politics & Policy

Support for Legal Abortion Has Not Increased Since the Texas Heartbeat Act

Abortion supporters and pro-life advocates demonstrate on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

The enforcement of the Texas Heartbeat Act, which protects preborn children after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, has led to pollsters focusing more than usual on life issues in recent weeks. Earlier this week, Quinnipiac University released the results of a new survey with several questions about abortion.

Unfortunately, both Quinnipiac and media outlets have attempted to spin the results to argue that the new heartbeat bill in Texas has led to rising support for legal abortion. In their release summarizing the poll results, Quinnipiac’s pollsters say that support for abortion is at one of the “highest levels” since the group started polling on abortion in 2004. Forbes published an article on the poll, saying it demonstrates a “surge” in support for abortion.

But a closer look at the poll suggests that public opinion on abortion hasn’t changed much at all in recent weeks. The survey found that 62 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases. This is nearly identical to the average of eight previous Quinnipiac polls asking this question, dating back to 2016. Similarly, the latest Quinnipiac poll found that 67 percent of Americans say they agree with the decision in Roe v. Wade. The previous eight Quinnipiac polls found that an average of 66 percent of Americans say they support Roe. In short, this poll’s results are broadly consistent with the results of earlier Quinnipiac polls and don’t reflect a substantial shift in public attitudes.

There was one interesting finding in the latest Quinnipiac poll that has gotten little attention: There’s relatively little support for congressional action to keep abortion legal. The poll found that only 43 percent of Americans say they support Congress passing a law to “protect access to abortion in the United States.” Meanwhile, 52 percent said Congress should either pass a law to “restrict [abortion] access” or “leave abortion access up to the states.” This suggests that efforts by House Democrats to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, sponsored by Congresswoman Judy Chu (D., Calif.) might actually be politically harmful to Democrats.

The enforcement of the Texas heartbeat bill and the upcoming oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization have brought abortion into the spotlight in the last few months of 2021. Legal-abortion supporters and their media allies are likely to continue spinning polls to argue that the pro-life position is losing ground, but pro-lifers should not be discouraged. Plenty of research indicates that public attitudes toward abortion have remained stable over the past several years. Furthermore, a recent poll by Rasmussen shows that the Texas heartbeat bill enjoys plurality support nationwide, and polls conducted in Texas and Missouri also have found that heartbeat bills enjoy public support. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

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