Wall Street Journal Poll Finds Upholding Roe v. Wade Is Supported by Most Americans

From a Wall Street Journal story by Catherine Lucey headlined “Upholding Roe v. Wade Is Supported by Most Americans, WSJ Poll Finds”:

More than two-thirds of Americans want to uphold Roe v. Wade, and most favor women having access to legal abortion for any reason, according to a new Wall Street Journal poll that shows a four-decade evolution in the country’s viewpoints regarding the procedure.

The findings are from a Journal poll conducted with NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization that measures social attitudes. The poll was taken after the leak of a draft opinion that suggests the Supreme Court might be preparing to overturn the 1973 decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion.

In the survey, 68% of respondents said they wouldn’t like to see the court completely overturn Roe, while 30% said they support that move.

The survey shows Americans have more-mixed feelings about restricting abortion access based on the length of the pregnancy. On banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, 34% of respondents were in support, 43% were in opposition and 21% said they neither supported nor opposed such a move. The numbers were similar for a ban after six weeks, with 30% of respondents in favor, 49% opposed and 19% with no view. A Journal poll in March found plurality support for a 15-week ban.

“There’s still obviously a lot of nuance in people’s abortion opinions,” said Jennifer Benz, vice president of public affairs and media research at NORC. She added that research shows that many people who say abortion should be legal for any reason also have limits on that view, especially when it comes to abortions later in pregnancy.

Some 57% of respondents said a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if she wants it for any reason, the highest share since NORC began asking the question every few years starting in 1977. The share opposed to a woman having an abortion simply because she wants one, 41%, was the lowest on record. The poll’s 4 percentage point margin of error means that, while those results have changed significantly over time, they might not be statistically different from last year’s findings.

This increased support for, and declining opposition to, abortion access for any reason occurred slowly from the late 1970s until the late 2010s, when the change in attitudes began accelerating.

The opinions of many Americans on abortion are coming under a spotlight as the Supreme Court considers whether to allow a 15-week ban passed in Mississippi, which is at odds with Roe and other precedents. A report last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 93% of abortions in the U.S. in 2019 took place by 15 weeks of gestation.

The high court has previously established the right to an abortion until a fetus is able to sustain meaningful life outside of the womb, which generally occurs at weeks 22 to 24 of pregnancy. Some states plan to preserve abortion access if Roe is overturned. Others have passed laws seeking to limit the procedure that are currently blocked by state and federal courts and could go into effect if Roe were overturned. Oklahoma and Texas have in the past year implemented bans on performing abortions after six weeks.

“I personally don’t agree with abortion, but I don’t think there should be laws banning women from having abortions. The option should be available,” said Katrina Jones, 46 years old, of Fort Worth, Texas, who said she didn’t identify with a political party. “In my state, it’s being used as campaign talk. I don’t think it’s sincere about saving children’s lives.”

Norine Woodruff, 63, of Forest Lake, Minn., who said she typically votes Republican, said she previously supported abortion rights, but changed her views over the years. She said she supports overturning Roe and letting states put laws in place, adding that she would support some abortion access in instances of rape or incest, serious birth defects or risks to the mother’s health.

“My opinion has changed dramatically from the late ’70s and early ’80s, when I had at least five or six friends that had them. Each one of them, I ended up crying with them,” she said. “It just went too far.”

Americans seem to have little confidence in their state leaders, who might determine abortion access around the country going forward. Asked who should be responsible for abortion law, 44% said the Supreme Court; 20%, state legislatures and governors; 17%, Congress; and 15%, state courts.

They also held some concerns about the high court, with 66% saying Supreme Court decisions were based more on the members’ political views, compared with 33% who said their rulings were based on the Constitution and the law. Positive views of the court have declined in recent years, according to past Journal polls conducted with NBC News.

“They’re most definitely following political leanings,” Zachary Lindahl, 35, of Henderson, N.C., said of the high court. He said he considers himself an independent but has been voting Democratic. He supports keeping Roe in place, he said, and isn’t comfortable with elected officials or courts dictating access to abortion. “What happens if we get another conservative Congress?” he asked.

The WSJ-NORC poll showed broader support for abortion when women face health risks and financial challenges. A total of 86% of respondents supported abortion access if the mother’s health is at serious risk; 84% if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest; and 76% if there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. Fifty-nine percent said abortion should be possible if the family has a low income and can’t afford more children.

“I think there should be some criteria on it. I don’t think it should be any old reason,” said Freddie Roddy, 59, of El Cajon, Calif., a Democrat who said he thought Roe should remain in place. “I think at one point, when the fetus gets a certain age, you’re taking a life at that point.”

In the survey, Republicans were more likely to favor state abortion restrictions at six or 15 weeks than Democrats, and rural Americans were more likely to support a ban at six or 15 weeks than those who live in urban areas. Those older than 45 were twice as likely to back a 15-week ban as those between ages 18 and 29.

Amy Hill, 31, of Shady Spring, W.Va., who said she has voted Republican, said that she was only comfortable permitting abortion in cases of rape. “I think sex is voluntary if you aren’t raped,” she said. “If you are voluntarily having sex with people, you should take the precaution to wear a condom or be on birth control.”

Men and women were equally likely to support upholding Roe. There was more backing for overturning the decision among older age groups. Among those age 65 and older, 35% would like a complete overturn of Roe, compared with 24% among those ages 18 to 29.

The WSJ-NORC poll surveyed 1,071 adults from May 9 through May 17.

Catherine Lucey is a White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal. She previously worked at the Associated Press, where she covered the White House, national politics and the Iowa caucuses. She joined the Journal in 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

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