Public Holds Nuanced Views about Access to Legal Abortion

A majority of Americans support abortion in most cases during the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy, but most oppose the procedure later in the pregnancy.

June 24, 2021

While a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the public does hold more nuanced views including concern about abortion later in pregnancy. There is a slight preference for the federal government having more responsibility for abortion laws than state governments. And majorities across both parties support access to legal abortion in certain cases.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the review of a Mississippi case that would determine the constitutionality of all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court forbid states from banning abortions before fetal viability — the point at which fetuses can sustain life outside the womb, or about 23 or 24 weeks.

While the public awaits the Court’s review in their next term, 57% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with Democrats and non-religious adults more likely to say so.

Sixty-one percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases during the first trimester of a women’s pregnancy while 38% say it shouldn’t be. The public is less supportive of abortion after the first trimester. Republicans and evangelical Christians are more likely to oppose legal abortion than other people in most or all cases during each trimester.

Large majorities of the public believe it should be possible to obtain a legal abortion if the mother’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Three-quarters believe it should be possible to obtain an abortion if the child would be born with a life-threatening illness. Only about half of the public believe it should be possible if the woman does not want to be pregnant for any reason.

A majority across parties agree women should have access to a legal abortion in the cases of the mother’s health, if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or if the child would be born with a life threatening illness. Just 27% of Republicans think legal abortion should be possible if the woman doesn’t want a child for any reason.

The public has a slight preference for the federal government having more responsibility for abortion laws than state governments. Democrats and non-religious adults are more likely to say that responsibility should lie with the federal government, whereas Republicans and evangelical Christians are more likely to favor placing responsibility with each state government.

The nationwide poll was conducted June 10-14, 2021 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,125 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.2 percentage points.

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