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Most Americans think abortion is 'morally acceptable' for the first time, Gallup poll finds

Abortion
An exam room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is shown following the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016. |

A new poll from the nonpartisan polling firm Gallup finds that most Americans believe that legal abortion is "morally acceptable" for the first time, even though an overwhelming majority oppose abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy and most oppose abortion in the second trimester. 

Gallup released a new survey about Americans' views on abortion last week. While the polling company has inquired about Americans' opinions on abortion annually for more than a quarter-century, this year's polling results come as the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. 

The survey was conducted between May 2 and May 22, which mostly overlaps with the days following the publication of a leaked draft opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health that suggests the court could soon overturn Roe. The poll is based on responses from 1,007 U.S. adults and holds an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

When asked if they viewed abortion as "morally acceptable," most respondents (52%) answered in the affirmative for the first time in the poll's history.

A record low share of Americans (38%) characterized abortion as "morally wrong," making this year's poll the first conducted by Gallup to show more Americans viewing abortion as "morally acceptable" than "morally wrong." 

In an interview with The Christian Post, Michael New, a pro-life scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a professor at the Catholic University of America, attributed the finding to an increase in "moral acceptability of a range of issues that pertain to sexuality" and "sexual conduct."

He cited "an increase in people who think that premarital sex is morally acceptable" and an increase in the number of people who believe "same-sex marriage is morally acceptable" as examples of this phenomenon. 

This year's poll revealed that 55% of Americans identify as "pro-choice," while 39% see themselves as "pro-life" on abortion.

The share of Americans identifying as pro-choice nearly matches the record high set in 1995 (56%) and marks a 6 percentage point jump from the 49% who described themselves as pro-choice last year. The percentage of Americans who reported a "pro-life" view on abortion dropped 8 percentage points from 47% between 2021 and 2022.

The share of pro-life Americans remains substantially higher than the 33% who claimed that identification in 1995 and the 36% who classified themselves as pro-life the following year. The percentage of Americans identifying as pro-life had not dropped below 40% since then until now.

"Fluctuations in public opinion about abortion are often driven by current events," New added.

Noting that "a bulk of this poll was taken after Justice [Samuel] Alito's draft opinion on Dobbs was leaked," the professor contends that "most of the media coverage was frankly not favorable to pro-lifers" in the aftermath of that leak. 

New blamed the polling result on "misinformation," lamenting that "some people still think that a reversal of Roe v. Wade would ban abortion everywhere."

A reversal of Roe would allow states to decide the legality of abortion.

State laws on abortion vary, with 21 states poised to either completely ban or restrict abortion more severely than they do now if Roe is gutted, 16 states primed to continue allowing abortion because it has been codified into law, 10 states likely to continue enforcing abortion restrictions and three states potentially changing abortion laws via ballot referendums.  

Gallup asked those surveyed if they supported any restrictions on abortion whatsoever.

Thirty-two percent of respondents said they want abortion "legal in any circumstance," while 19% expressed a desire to see abortion banned completely. The rest of the sample took a more nuanced position on abortion.

While support for abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy is relatively high (67%), the share of Americans who think abortion should be legal during the third trimester is much lower.

About 20% of those surveyed thought women should have the ability to terminate a pregnancy during the third trimester, while 71% don't agree. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed support abortions during the second trimester of pregnancy, in contrast to 55% who do not. 

The Mississippi law at the center of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case bans abortions after 15 weeks gestation, a time interval that marks the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy. Although the Gallup poll did not ask Americans for their opinion on the law, the majority opposition to second-trimester abortions suggests that most respondents would support such a measure. 

Approximately one-third of Americans (35%) want abortion legal in all circumstances and 13% would like to see abortion illegal in all cases. The remainder of Americans thinks abortion should be legal under most circumstances (18%) or legal in just a few circumstances (32%).

According to the Gallup poll, all demographic subgroups saw an increase in pro-choice identification over the past year, although the percentage of pro-choice Republicans barely budged from 22% to 23%. Democrats saw a pronounced rise in pro-choice identification over the past year, from 70% to 88%. Fifty-four percent of independents described themselves as pro-life in 2022, a slight uptick from 2021. 

New said that "most of the gain in support for legal abortion took place amongst people who identify as Democrats," suggesting the poll results "may not matter much politically." He told CP that "self-identified Democrats are likely to be voting Democrat anyway, and the fact that they're more sympathetic to legal abortion doesn't really result in more political support for candidates that support abortion." 

As Gallup documented, respondents between 18 and 34 years old saw the most significant jump in pro-choice identification, climbing from 55% last year to 67% now. Smaller increases in the percentage of those who identify as pro-choice were recorded among those between 35 and 54 (49% to 58%) and Americans 55 years old or older (46% to 49%). The share of women calling themselves pro-choice rose from 51% to 59% over the past year, while the percentage of men saying the same jumped from 40% to 45%. 

A Wall Street Journal poll conducted from May 9 to May 17 yielded similar results, finding that 57% of Americans think a woman should be able to obtain an abortion for any reason. Fifty-four percent said the same in a 2021 poll asking the same question. 

Unlike the Gallup poll, The Wall Street Journal poll specifically asked respondents if they supported a 15-week abortion ban. A plurality (43%) opposed banning abortions after 15 weeks gestation, followed by 34% who supported such a ban and 19% who had no view. 

New suggested that "what you're seeing from both The Wall Street Journal poll and the Gallup poll" was "driven by current events." He believes "if they had taken that poll a few weeks later, I don't think you would have seen the sizable gain in support for legal abortion."

The scholar listed some previous examples of how current events have "shifted public opinion on abortion," recounting an uptick in support for the pro-life movement as Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Acts were debated at the state and federal level in the late 1990s and during the trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell in 2013. On the other hand, he asserted, support for legal abortion rose as the Supreme Court took up cases that could have had the effect of overturning Roe, specifically Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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