Only 9 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances even as 14 states are enforcing near-total bans on the procedure, the 19th News/SurveyMonkey poll has found.
Past polling has frequently found that people hold sometimes confusing and conflicting opinions about abortion, and this poll is no different: Some of those who say they support completely outlawing the procedure still believe abortion should be allowed in at least some circumstances.
SurveyMonkey conducted this poll online from August 24 to 31 among a national sample of 20,191 adults, with a modeled error estimate of plus or minus 1.0 percentage points.
Only 61 percent of those who said they wanted abortion entirely illegal went on to say abortion should be available under no circumstances. About 21 percent supported access if the pregnancy threatens the patient’s life, for example, and about 16 percent supported exceptions to total abortion bans for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.
The complexity goes both ways. The 19th News/SurveyMonkey poll found that 30 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, with women significantly more likely than men to say so. But even among that group, only 80 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal for a fetus with “severe birth defects,” and only 83 percent said they supported legal abortion in cases where the fetus would not survive.
The results speak to the difficulty of understanding public opinion on abortion, an issue that has the potential to shape the 2024 election. And they illustrate how few Americans truly do support abortion bans with no exceptions, even among those who say they’re in favor of such a policy. As presidential candidates such as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley call for a “national consensus” policy on abortion, the data underscores how complex many Americans’ views remain on the subject.
A clear majority of Americans support keeping abortion generally legal, the poll found, with 63 percent either saying abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” circumstances. One-third of women said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, compared with one-fourth of men. Seventy percent of nonbinary people think abortion should be always legal. Public opinion surrounding abortion appears to have shifted over the past year, with more people saying they believe abortion should always be legal. The change comes as Americans have witnessed the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade and implementation of abortion bans across the country — including minors pregnant as a result of rape being unable to access abortions, and people unable to access abortions when wanted pregnancies became life-threatening.
Elisia Jones, a 34-year-old call center responder who works for the state of Georgia, said she has opposed abortion as long as she has known about it and was glad when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Still, she recalled taking a close friend to an abortion clinic years ago when that woman wanted to terminate an unintended pregnancy. Jones opposed her friend’s decision, but she could not talk her out of it.
“I felt bad because I’m against it. But I can’t judge her,” Jones said. “It was a mistake. You know how it is — it was a mistake, and she wasn’t sure who the mistake was from.”
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Jones said she would support a law banning abortion entirely. But she also said she agrees with a number of exceptions, including for people pregnant because of rape or incest, or if giving birth would threaten the pregnant person’s life. In cases where a fetus is discovered to have medical complications — even if not life-threatening — she said that the correctness of abortion depends on whether “the parents are ready for a challenge or not” and that parents should have a choice on whether to terminate the pregnancy.
“I love kids, so I don’t believe in terminating them,” she said. “But in certain circumstances, I would agree with it.”
Georgia bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy but allows it after that point if a fetus is ruled “medically futile,” to save the pregnant person’s life, or for people pregnant as a result of rape or incest who have also filed a police report.
Even when abortion bans do include exceptions for rape or incest, survivors are often unable to use them to access care. And while most states with abortion bans allow for the procedure to save a pregnant person’s life, doctors say the language is narrow and confusing, to the extent that they are often unable to provide care until patients are on the verge of death.
Americans like Jones — a Black woman who said she leans Democrat in how she votes — are less likely to favor total abortion bans. About 15 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning respondents said they supported making abortion illegal always, compared with 11 percent of Independents and 3 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning ones.
Still, in interviews with The 19th, respondents of varying demographics who said they supported banning abortion entirely still expressed concerns over some current restrictions. And many did not know the state of abortion legality where they lived.
Richard Roman, who is part Hispanic, White and Black, said he believes abortion constitutes “taking a life.” A 38-year-old veteran who recently moved to Florida, Roman similarly said he supports laws that would ban abortion completely — but, he then clarified, he believes the procedure should be available to people pregnant because of rape or incest, who are minors, or for whom staying pregnant would threaten their health or life.
Like Jones, Roman did not know until speaking with The 19th about his own state’s abortion law, which bans the procedure for anyone past 15 weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest. That law is currently being challenged in state court — if it is upheld, the state would then move to enforce a stricter law, banning abortion for anyone past week six of pregnancy, though it would add in exceptions for rape or incest up to week 12.
Roman described his own state’s laws as unfair, particularly because of the lack of exceptions for rape or incest or for minors seeking abortions. He would even support a stricter ban, he said, as long as it had exceptions.
“The way I see it, if I was a woman that’s like someone telling me what I can and cannot do with my body,” he said. “For an adult 18 and above, I could understand that. But for a young person, no. There should be some leniency at least for minors.”
Religion also remains a predictor for strong opposition to abortion. Those who identified as Protestant, Catholic, Muslim or Mormon were more likely to favor completely outlawing the procedure, with 15 percent of Mormons, 14 percent of Protestants, 12 percent of Muslims and 11 percent of Catholics expressing such a preference. (In comparison, 3 percent of Jewish respondents, 2 percent of Buddhists and 3 percent of Hindus thought abortion should be completely banned.)
Faith plays a large role in June Del Rosario’s opposition to abortion. Del Rosario, 55, is Catholic and immigrated to California seven years ago from the Philippines, a country where the procedure is illegal. He views abortion as murder and a violation of the 10 Commandments, a list of religious principles outlined in the Old Testament. Before speaking with The 19th, he did not know that California permits abortion, which is legal in the state until fetal viability, typically around 23 to 25 weeks.
But though he, too, believes abortion should be completely illegal, Del Rosario did express concern for people pregnant as a result of rape or incest, even though he personally still believes abortion is morally wrong in such cases.
“Abortion should be legal if you can show the woman got pregnant with force or by rape,” he said. “If she gets pregnant with force, that’s a different story. I think she could apply for one.”
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