Abortion has long been an incendiary issue within American politics. The latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows that hasn’t changed, with voting-age Americans sharply split on whether abortion should be limited by the law.
With a Supreme Court decision looming on Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks, the I&I/TIPP Poll asked people the following question: “Should abortion be illegal after six weeks of pregnancy, except in the case of a medical emergency?”
On Sept. 1 of last year, Texas became the first state to lower its legal limit on abortions to 6 weeks or after a fetal heartbeat is found. That case now sits in the hands of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case to the Texas Supreme Court, which could add months to a final decision.
If the law withstands legal challenges, it could be a model for other states wanting to limit abortions.
Of those responding to the I&I/TIPP Poll, fully 39% said they would make abortion illegal after six weeks, while 44% said they would oppose such a move. A significantly large 17% said they were unsure.
Respondents were then given a statement and asked for their response. “U.S. laws restricting abortion should be . . . ” They were then given four possible answers: “More strict,” “Less strict,” “Left as is,” and “Not sure.”
There, it’s a toss-up: 32% said they wanted more strict abortion laws and 32% said they wanted less strict laws. Some 23% said they wanted laws left as they are, and another 13% said they were not sure.
But political affiliation is where the differences really show.
Among those who self-identify as Republicans, a solid 55% say they would support a 6-week abortion limit, while 51% said they’d like stricter abortion laws. For Democrats, 33% said they would support the 6-week limit and just 22% said they wanted stricter laws.
On both issues, independents were far closer in their responses to the Democrats than to the Republicans: 34% support the 6-week limit, just 1% higher than the Dems, and 30% support stricter laws, vs. 22% for the Dems.
But here it’s important to note: While there are differences, at a minimum, one out of three Americans of all political parties would support the most strict limits on when an abortion can take place. And long-term, other surveys show, anywhere from 37% to 44% each year say that abortion should be illegal “in all or almost all” cases.
Another key point: African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, America’s largest minority groups, differ on abortion. Among Hispanics, a plurality of 46% say abortions should be illegal after six weeks; among blacks, it’s 36%. On whether abortion laws need to be stricter, 38% of Hispanics say yes, compared to just 28% of Blacks.
With abortion on the Supreme Court’s docket and a decision likely this summer, the issue will loom large in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The court will soon decide whether Mississippi’s law limiting abortions after 15 weeks is valid under the Constitution and consistent with the court’s earlier rulings. If not, it could be overturned.
But if it is, then Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that set off decades of often-bitter debate, will likely be overturned or, at minimum, extensively modified.
As the I&I/TIPP data show, whatever way the high court decides will leave at least a third of the American public disappointed and set up a new debate not just for this election cycle, but for the coming decades.
Under Roe v. Wade, the court essentially ruled that abortion was legal under a presumed “right to privacy,” a right that is not actually found in the Constitution but rather inferred by the court from other existing rights. Even some staunch Roe supporters agree the legal reasoning by the 1973 court was flimsy at best, making Roe vulnerable.
Recently, the Guttmacher Institute and Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that at least 26 states stand ready to make abortion illegal if Roe is overturned.
Still, it stands as the law of the land.
Even back in 1973, the court knew it was stepping into a bitter dispute. At the time, it acknowledged “the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires.”
That remains true today.
Under Roe, abortion was essentially left to a woman and her doctor for the first three months, or trimester; during the second trimester, a state can regulate abortion, but only with regards to protecting a woman’s health; for the final three months of pregnancy, states were given the right to ban or regulate the procedure, except when the woman’s health was in question.
The court, in rendering its decision, cited states’ “important and legitimate interest in potential life.” The U.S., according to the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute, is only one of seven countries worldwide to permit abortion after 20 weeks.
The general standard under Roe was confirmed by the 1992 Casey decision, which basically allowed abortion to be legal only before a fetus was “viable.” After that, it could be regulated or even made illegal. Initially, viability was set at 28 weeks; medical advances have lowered that to 23 weeks, still nearly 6 months into a pregnancy.
As The New York Times recently wrote, “Few countries allow abortion without restriction until fetal viability, the cutoff set by Roe v. Wade . . . Because of medical advances, that is now around 23 weeks. And only around a dozen other countries allow abortions for any reason beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy, the threshold in the Mississippi law the Supreme Court is considering, which could overturn Roe.”
So, if nothing else, the Roe and Casey decisions look likely to have their “viability” standards sharply reduced by the court, even if Roe isn’t overturned completely.
All the data come from the monthly I&I/TIPP Poll, which was conducted online from Feb. 2-4 and includes responses from 1,355 adults nationwide. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points.
To serve our readers, I&I/TIPP will continue to provide timely and informative data from our monthly polls on this topic and others of major interest. TIPP has earned a reputation for excellence by being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.