6 in 10 Americans want Roe v. Wade changed to allow abortion restrictions: poll

U.S. anti-abortion protest 2017
A man stands during an anti-Planned Parenthood vigil outside the Planned Parenthood - Margaret Sanger Health Center in Manhattan, New York, U.S., on Feb. 11, 2017. |

More than six in 10 Americans say they want the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade to be reinterpreted to allow additional restrictions on abortion, a new survey has found.

A new survey of over 1,066 adults aged 18 and older conducted last week and released on Tuesday asked participants what they would want to happen if the Supreme Court one day reconsiders the 1973 ruling, a possibility that some abortion advocates fear with the slight conservative majority of the bench. 

The question posed is one of the newest questions asked of respondents to an 11th-annual Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll conducted for the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus on abortion rights.

The survey found that 30 percent of respondents say they would like to see abortion kept “legal without restriction,” while 49 percent said they would like states to be allowed to make “certain restrictions” and 16 percent said they think abortion should be made entirely illegal.

“We ended up finding that almost two-thirds, 65 percent, would like the court to reinterpret Roe, revisit that decision in a way that would functionally overturn it,” Knights of Columbus Vice President Andrew Walther told reporters in a press call on Tuesday.

Walther notes the data indicates that nearly half of respondents favor a legal landscape similar to the days before the Roe v. Wade decision when states could decide abortion restrictions for themselves or favor tighter abortion restrictions.

“So you have 65 percent that is looking for something very much different for Roe v. Wade,” he stressed.

Walther added that most polling on Roe v. Wade only asks binary questions about whether a respondent supports the 1973 Supreme Court decision without doing much to go into detail about the individual views on how the ruling should be changed or upheld.

“It is a different set of answers when you ask [just] the brand name,” Walther explained.  “What we have found both with the [question on abortion restrictions] … and now with this question with the Supreme Court, when you ask people what they think, the answers you get taking away the labels [of pro-choice and pro-life] are really interesting in terms of policy prescriptions or desire for jurisprudence that would be very different from what a snapshot-label-type question would give you.”

In previous Marist/Knights of Columbus surveys, respondents have been asked where they stand on a six-point spectrum when it comes to the issue of abortion.

Just 15 percent of adults say they believe abortion should be “available to a woman at any point during the pregnancy,” a position more in line with that of 2016 Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the abortion industry. Only 9 percent of respondents said they think abortion should be legal during the first six months of pregnancy.

As the U.S. is one of seven countries in the world that allows abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, 27 percent said they think abortion should only be allowed during the first three months of pregnancy while 28 percent said that abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Ten percent said abortion should be legal only to save the life of the mother and another 10 percent said abortion should “never be permitted under any circumstance.”

Knights of Columbus and Marist maintain that the data indicates that 75 percent of respondents feel that abortion should at the very least be limited to the first three months of pregnancy.

When it comes to respondents who identified as “pro-choice,” 25 percent said they support abortion at any point in the pregnancy and 14 percent said they support abortion during the first six months.

Forty-two percent of self-identified pro-choice respondents said they think abortion should be legal only in the first three months of pregnancy while 17 percent said they think abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

“What this study has shown and we have shown over the past decade, is that it would be helpful for us to step back from the campaigning in the public square and have a serious discussion about what Americans’ policy preferences are on the issue of abortion,” Marist poll Director Barbara Carvalho told reporters. “Yes, this weekend you have the March for Life and the Women’s March and it is being characterized as one side versus the other side. What I am hoping we provide through this research it is not just about being on one side or the other side.”

Walther and Carvalho were asked about data compiled by Gallup, which has found that about six out of 10 Americans broadly support abortion rights in the first trimester.

“I think it is important to understand that the legal situation as it is now is not a strict three-month limit,” Walther said. “What you have is 75 percent support substantial restrictions. The Washington Post “Fact Checker” has confirmed that the U.S. is one of only seven countries that allows abortion after 20 weeks. We allow late-term abortions in a way that only six other countries allow it, including North Korea, Vietnam, and China.”

The survey also found that 75 percent of respondents oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions in other countries, while 54 percent oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to fund a woman’s abortion.

Sixty-two percent of respondents oppose aborting babies diagnosed in utero as having Down syndrome.

The survey also found that 59 percent of respondents say they support banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except to save the life of a mother, while 32 percent said they oppose such a rule.

The survey, which was conducted on Jan. 8  through Jan. 10, contained a 3.7-percentage-point margin of error.

Last year, the abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights argued in a report that if Roe was overturned, then 22 states would likely ban abortion in response.

But Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric J. Scheidler, told CP last July that claims like 22 states immediately banning abortion are exaggerated "fear mongering."

"At most, only a couple of states with extremely conservative legislatures might even attempt something like a total ban on abortion," Scheidler told CP.

"[It's] far more likely that states would seek to further restrict abortion, in line with the view of most Americans, with measures like banning late-term abortion and holding abortion facilities to the highest health and safety standards," he said. 

He added that the Supreme Court could uphold greater restrictions on abortion than we've seen so far, such as the bans on abortion after 20 weeks that have been passed in some states.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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