As the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority seems poised to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, more than twice as many Americans (55 percent) say they want the court to reaffirm its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision as say they want it overturned (24 percent), according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
Yet when asked about the specifics of the Mississippi case, respondents are far more divided — a sign that America’s views on abortion are not quite as clear-cut and polarized as many assume.
The survey of 1,696 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Nov. 17 to 19, found that equal numbers favor (39 percent) and oppose (38 percent) the Mississippi law when it is described as something “that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, or about three and a half months.” (Roe v. Wade currently prohibits states from outlawing the procedure before about 23 weeks.) A significant share of Democrats (19 percent), Black Americans (25 percent) and Hispanic Americans (29 percent) also say they support a 15-week ban. Another 23 percent of overall Americans are unsure.
This suggests that while most Americans favor Roe v. Wade in theory, some of them are not necessarily wedded to what the court has previously characterized as the central holding of that ruling: that women have a constitutional right to abortion up to the moment of “viability,” when the fetus can survive outside the womb (i.e., around 23 weeks).
During oral arguments Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts emerged as the leading voice on the right for a narrow decision that would allow other states to ban abortions before 15 weeks but not fully overturn Roe.
“The thing that is at issue before us today is 15 weeks,” Roberts said.
But Justice Samuel Alito disagreed, arguing that “the only real options we have” are to reaffirm Roe in its entirety or to overrule it — a view that at least two other conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, are thought to share.
If these conservatives prevail and the court fully overturns Roe, “at least 20 states will immediately or in short order make almost all abortions unlawful, forcing women who can afford it to travel long distances to obtain the procedure,” according to the New York Times.
Such a sequence of events would come as a surprise to many Americans. Asked if “you think the Supreme Court WILL overturn Roe v. Wade,” just 16 percent say yes; the rest either say no (36 percent) or that they’re not sure (48 percent). And even some who don’t necessarily oppose Mississippi’s 15-week ban are reluctant to see it used to topple Roe. When told that “the current law under Roe v. Wade forbids states from banning all abortions before around six months of pregnancy,” support for “[striking] down the Mississippi law and [preserving] Roe v. Wade” rises to 42 percent; support for “[upholding] the Mississippi law and [allowing] similar abortion bans elsewhere” falls to 32 percent.
More broadly, a full 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while just 39 percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Likewise, 56 percent say abortion is "a constitutional right that women in all states should have some access to," while only 29 percent say it is “something that individual states should be able to outlaw” — the inevitable result of a decision to fully overturn Roe.
Even here, however, there are nuances. Poll questions that focus on the general right to an abortion typically show majority support; those that focus on narrower restrictions, such as parental consent or "late term" abortions, often show more opposition. That’s because few Americans are hard-liners one way or the other. Just 11 percent, for instance, say abortion should be “illegal in all cases”; just a quarter (26 percent) say it should be it should be “legal in all cases.” More remain somewhere in the middle, saying the procedure should be “legal in most cases” (35 percent) or “illegal in most cases” (28 percent).
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,696 U.S. adults interviewed online from Nov. 17 to 19, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6 percent.