Poll: Roe v. Wade ruling remains broadly popular — but Americans' views on abortion are still very complex

·Chief National Correspondent
·4 min read

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll reveals that Americans’ views about abortion remain highly complex, although the Roe v. Wade ruling remains popular while a recent Texas law banning most abortions is not.

The survey of 1,610 U.S. adults found that a majority of respondents took a positive view of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Of those who responded to the poll, 55 percent said they opposed overturning the ruling, while 26 percent said they supported reversing it, and 19 percent said they were not sure what they thought.

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
Abortion rights activists at the Texas state Capitol in Austin on Sept. 11. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)

These attitudes break down somewhat along partisan lines. A clear preponderance of Democrats say they support keeping Roe (76 percent), but a slim majority of Republicans favor getting rid of it (51 percent). Independents side decisively with Roe, opposing its abrogation by 56 to 23 percent.

But even though Americans still broadly support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the vast majority of them also favor at least some restrictions on the procedure.

Only 29 percent of those surveyed said they thought abortion should always be legal with no restrictions, although that number has gone up a few points over the past year. It was 23 percent in May and 25 percent a year ago.

And 39 percent of those surveyed said they favored “a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, or about 3 1/2 months,” while 33 percent said they opposed it, and 28 percent said they were not sure. Again, independents were decisive, with 40 percent supporting the Mississippi law and 31 percent opposing.

Framing the question in a different way, however, appeared to affect the results among those independents.

When asked if the Supreme Court should “uphold the Mississippi ban and allow similar abortion bans elsewhere” or “strike down the Mississippi law and preserve Roe,” more independents sided with Roe than did not: 41 percent said the Supreme Court should overturn the Mississippi law and preserve Roe, while 31 percent said the court should uphold the state’s ban on abortion at 15 weeks. About a third of all those surveyed said they didn’t know what they thought about this question.

Debra Sweet joins people gathered for a reproductive rights rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Sept. 1 in downtown Brooklyn in New York City. She holds a sign saying:
Attendees at a reproductive rights rally at Brooklyn's Borough Hall on Sept. 1. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Pollsters and political scientists have noted for decades that Americans tend to have mixed feelings about abortion, although a majority has long supported keeping the procedure legal in at least some instances. “American abortion politics, at least in the general electorate, are complex and not actually polarized in the ‘us vs. them’ way they are commonly portrayed. Though some find themselves on the extremes of the debate, most are in the complex middle,” wrote Charlie Camosy, a professor of ethics and theology at Fordham University, in his 2015 book “Beyond the Abortion Wars.”

The court is expected to hear oral arguments this fall in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the case that will decide the fate of the Mississippi law — and a ruling should come in the spring or summer of 2022, a few months before voters go to the polls for the midterm elections. The Dobbs case will be the first major test of Roe v. Wade since the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late liberal jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg last fall.

When asked whether they thought the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case, a substantial plurality of Americans in the Yahoo News/YouGov survey — 47 percent — said they didn’t know what to expect.

Most respondents, meanwhile, said they oppose the recent Texas law that essentially bans abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy. Only 33 percent of those surveyed said they supported the law, while 50 percent opposed it.

Opponents of abortion carrying signs like
Opponents of abortion protest near the Texas state Capitol in May. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

Again, it was independents who tipped the scale on the question about the Texas law, which noted that six weeks of pregnancy is “before most women are aware that they are pregnant.” Fifty-two percent of independents said they opposed the Texas statute, while 76 percent of Democrats said the same. Among Republicans, 63 percent said they favored the law.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,610 U.S. adults interviewed online from Sept. 14 to 16, 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.

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