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Poll: 47 Percent Oppose Abortion Except in Extreme Cases

A young girlholds up an ultrasound photo of her unborn sister at her home in San Diego, Calif., in 2011. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Americans tend much more toward the middle on abortion than the polarized debate on the issue would suggest, according to a new a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Almost half the public, 47 percent, supports strict bans on abortion that would allow a mother to procure one only for a serious reason. About 9 percent say abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance, another 9 percent say it should be allowed only to save the life of the mother, and 29 percent say the procedure should be permitted only in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at stake.

Only 18 percent said abortion should be legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, available whenever the mother desires it.

Those on both sides of the issue also tend to be highly dissatisfied with current abortion laws. Sixty-six percent of those who identify as “pro-life” and 62 percent of those who identify as “pro-choice,” say they are somewhat or very dissatisfied with the legal regime governing the procedure.

Just over three-quarters of respondents, 77 percent, said the Supreme Court should preserve Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in America. 26 percent say the ruling should be upheld but more restrictions should be added, while another 13 percent say the ruling should be overturned altogether.

“What it speaks to is the fact that the debate is dominated by the extreme positions on both sides,” said Barbara Carvalho, the director of the Marist Poll. “People do see the issue as very complicated, very complex. Their positions don’t fall along one side or the other. . . . The debate is about the extremes, and that’s not where the public is.”

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