Most Americans say abortion should be illegal after first trimester in most or all cases, AP poll finds

An anti-abortion protestor holds her child as activists celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, striking down a Massachusetts law that mandated a protective buffer zone around abortion clinics, as the demonstrators stand outside the Court in Washington, June 26, 2014. |

Strong majorities of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases in the second or third trimesters of pregnancy, according to a new poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. 

AP and the NORC at the University of Chicago released the findings of a poll on American opinions on abortion legality in a report published last Thursday. The report comes as the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a challenge to a Mississippi abortion law that bans most abortions in the state after 15 weeks gestation. 

Data for the report came from a nationwide poll conducted online and over the phone from June 10 through June 14 with a sample of 1,125 adults and a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.

Although the poll found that 57% of Americans believe that abortion, in general, should be legal in all or most cases, support for the procedure varied considerably based on trimester.

While 61% of respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances during the first trimester, only 34% said the same for the second trimester and 19% for the third trimester.

About 30% of respondents said abortion should be "illegal in most cases" during the second trimester. Thirty-five percent said that it should be "illegal in all cases" during the second trimester. 

In the third trimester, 54% believe that abortion should be "illegal in all cases," and 26% believe that third-trimester abortion should be "illegal in most cases."

This decline in support as the term of pregnancy continued was seen even among Democrat respondents, whose political party holds a pro-choice stance on the abortion issue.

AP found that while 81% of Democrat respondents believe that first-trimester abortions should be legal in all or most cases, the number dropped to 52% for the second trimester and 28% for the third trimester.

Republican respondents were the least likely to support abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with 41% saying it should be legal in most or all cases in the first trimester and 18% saying the same for the second trimester. About 8% of Republicans said they think abortion should be legal in most or all cases in the third trimester.

The poll also found that respondents who identified as “non-religious” were the most likely to support abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with 89% saying abortion should be legal for most or all cases during the first trimester, 62% for the second trimester and 36% for the third trimester.

By contrast, respondents identified as “Born-again or evangelical Christian” were the least likely to support abortion at all stages. Thirty-four percent of "born-again evangelical Christians" surveyed said abortion should be mostly or entirely legal in the first trimester, 16% said the same for the second trimester and 8% for the third trimester.

Earlier this month, Gallup released a poll of over 1,000 adults suggesting that 67% of Americans either support limits on abortion or an outright ban, with 47% of respondents identifying as “pro-life.”

By contrast, 32% of respondents for the Gallup poll believed that abortion should be legal “under any circumstances,” which was “the highest such percentage since the early to mid-1990s, when it was consistently at that level.”

The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments over the Mississippi abortion law as several states in recent years have passed laws banning late-term abortions, with some banning abortion as early as six weeks of gestation. 

The case is significant because the Mississippi law is attempting to give legal protection to unborn babies that have not reached viability, which goes against the standard set by the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life lobbying group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that the case represents a “landmark opportunity” to reverse Roe.

“Across the nation, state lawmakers acting on the will of the people have introduced 536 pro-life bills aimed at humanizing our laws and challenging the radical status quo imposed by Roe,” stated Dannenfelser.

“It is time for the Supreme Court to catch up to scientific reality and the resulting consensus of the American people as expressed in elections and policy.”

Other polls have found similar results over the years when it comes to Americans' attitudes about late-term abortion. 

A Marist poll released in January sponsored by the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus found that about three-quarters of Americans favor restrictions on abortions. The survey found that 55% of self-identified pro-choice respondents favor limiting abortion access to the first three months of pregnancy or favor stricter limitations. 

A 2019 poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the pro-life organization Americans United for Life found that about two-thirds of Americans who identify as pro-choice oppose third-trimester abortions. 

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