August 29, 2019

U.S. Public Continues to Favor Legal Abortion, Oppose Overturning Roe v. Wade

More agree with Democrats than Republicans on abortion policy

Majority continues to say abortion should be legal in all or most casesAs debates over abortion continue in states around the country, a majority of Americans (61%) continue to say that abortion should be legal in all (27%) or most (34%) cases. A smaller share of the public (38%) says abortion should be illegal in all (12%) or most cases (26%).

The new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted July 22-August 4 among 4,175 adults, also finds little support for overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion. Seven-in-ten say they do not want to see the Roe v. Wade decision completely overturned; 28% say they would like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn the 1973 decision.

Consistent with these views, a majority of Americans say their greater concern is that some states are making it too difficult (59%) rather than too easy (39%) for people to be able to get an abortion.

Broad public opposition to completely overturning Roe v. WadePartisan divides over abortion policy remain deep and the issue also exposes differences within the two parties, especially the GOP.

Democrats broadly back access to legal abortion: About eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (82%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. A somewhat larger share of liberal (91%) than conservative and moderate (75%) Democrats say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Democrats are ideologically divided over how far protections for legal abortion should extend: Conservative and moderate Democrats are more likely to say abortion should be legal in most cases (45%) than in all cases (30%). The balance of opinion is reversed among liberal Democrats: 51% say abortion should be legal in all cases, while 39% say it should be legal in most cases.

Wide divide among Republicans in views of legal abortionAmong Republicans and Republican leaners, significantly more say abortion should be illegal (62%) than legal (36%) in all or most cases. Republicans are deeply split on this question by ideology: 77% of conservative Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases; just 22% say it should be legal. By contrast, 57% of moderate and liberal Republicans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with a smaller share (41%) who say it should be illegal.

When it comes to abortion policy, the public expresses somewhat more agreement with the Democratic Party’s policies than those of the Republican Party – though a sizable minority says they don’t agree with either party’s policies.

Larger share of public agrees with Democratic Party than GOP on abortion policy

Overall, 42% agree with the Democratic Party’s policies on abortion either strongly (28%) or somewhat (15%). A smaller share (32%) says they strongly (21%) or somewhat (11%) agree with the policies of the GOP. About a quarter (24%) says they don’t agree with either party on this issue.

Most partisans agree with their own party’s stance on abortion policy, but moderates in both parties are especially likely to express some doubts about their own party’s policies on abortion.

Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 64% agree with the GOP’s stance on abortion, while 23% say they do not agree with either party and 12% say they agree with the Democratic Party’s policies. About eight-in-ten conservative Republicans (81%) agree with the GOP on abortion policy, compared with just 41% of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of moderate and liberal Republicans (59%) do not agree with either party (35%) or agree with the Democratic Party (24%) on abortion policy.

Seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners say they agree with their own party on abortion policy; 22% say they do not agree with either party and just 7% agree with the GOP. Liberal Democrats (85%) are much more likely than conservatives and moderates (57%) to agree with the Democratic Party’s policies on abortion. Roughly a third of conservatives and moderates (32%) say they do not agree with either party’s policies; 9% say they agree with the GOP.

Partisan gap in views of legal abortion has widened in recent years

Growing share of Democrats favor legal abortion in all or most casesWhile Republicans and Democrats have long differed in their views on abortion, the partisan gap today is larger than it has been in recent years. And the growing partisan gap has been driven largely by an increase in support for legal abortion among Democrats.

In the current survey, Democrats and Democratic leaners are 46 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (82% vs. 36%). This gap is wider than it has been in previous Pew Research Center surveys dating to 2007. For instance, in 2016, there was a 33-point gap between the shares of Democrats (72%) and Republicans (39%) who supported legal abortion in all or most cases.

Differences in views on legal abortion extend beyond party affiliation; there are significant divides in views on the basis of religious affiliation, education and age. Notably, there are virtually no differences in the opinions of women and men.

Large differences in views of legal abortion by religious affiliationA majority of white mainline Protestants (60%) and black Protestants (64%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. By contrast, 77% of white evangelical Protestants say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Among Catholics, more say abortion should be legal (56%) than illegal (42%) in all or most cases. Those who are not affiliated with a religion are among the most supportive of legal abortion: 83% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Among all adults, those with higher levels of educational attainment are more supportive of legal abortion than those with less education. While 72% of those with postgraduate degrees say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a smaller majority of those who have not completed college (57%) say the same.

Across age groups, those under 50 are more supportive of legal abortion than are those 50 and older. For example, 70% of those ages 18 to 29 say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 55% of those ages 65 and older.

Most Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade

Seven-in-ten say they do not want the Supreme Court to completely overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, compared with 28% who want to see the decision completely overturned.

Republicans divided on whether Roe v. Wade should be completely overturnedSimilar majorities of women (70%) and men (69%) do not want Roe v. Wade overturned.

Republicans are divided in their views, reflecting internal ideological differences. Half of Republicans and Republican leaners do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade; nearly as many (48%) would like to see the decision overturned.

By 61% to 37%, conservative Republicans say they would like Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Moderate and liberal Republicans take the opposite view: 70% do not want the Supreme Court to overturn the decision, while just 27% say they want this to happen.

Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (87%) do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, including 94% of liberal Democrats and 81% of conservative and moderate Democrats.

Views on the Roe v. Wade decision are tied to overall views on whether abortion should be legal or illegal. For instance, 92% of those who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. A majority of those who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases (62%) want the decision overturned; however, a sizable minority (35%) of those who think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases do not want the court to completely overturn its 1973 decision.

Who knows someone who has had an abortion?

Majority of public says they know someone who has had an abortionWhen asked whether they personally know someone who has had an abortion – such as a close friend, family member or the respondent themselves – 57% of the public says they know someone who has had an abortion; 42% say they do not.

About half or more across most demographic groups say they know someone who has had an abortion.

Women (63%) are 12 percentage points more likely than men (51%) to say they personally know someone who has had an abortion.

Across age groups, the youngest adults ages 18 to 29 (48%) are less likely than older adults – particularly those ages 50 to 64 – to say they know someone who has had an abortion.

The share who know someone who has had an abortion varies little across levels of educational attainment.

Nearly identical shares of Democrats and Democratic leaners (58%) and Republicans and Republican leaners (57%) say they personally know someone who has had an abortion.

Knowing someone who has had an abortion has a modest impact on abortion policy viewsThose who personally know someone who has had an abortion are only modestly more likely than those who do not to say abortion should be legal. Almost two-thirds of those who know someone who has had an abortion say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (64%). Among those who do not know someone who has had an abortion, support for legal abortion is slightly lower (57%).

Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, those who know someone who has had an abortion are 7 percentage points more likely than those who don’t to support legal abortion (85% and 78%, respectively). There is only a 3-point difference among Republicans and Republicans leaners in support for legal abortion between those who know someone who has had an abortion (38%) and those who do not (35%).

Broad concern that some states are making it ‘too difficult’ to get an abortion

Views of access to abortion in states are similar to opinions about legal abortionAbout six-in-ten Americans (59%) say their greater concern is that some states are making it too difficult for people to be able to get an abortion; 39% say their greater concern is that some states are making it too easy for people to be able to get an abortion.

A majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (83%) say their greater concern is that some states are making it too difficult for people to get an abortion. By 65% to 33%, Republicans and Republican leaners say their greater concern is that some states are making it too easy for people to get an abortion.

Views on this question are closely related to overall views on whether abortion should be legal or illegal. Almost nine-in-ten of those who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (88%) say their greater concern is that some states are making it too difficult to get an abortion. Among those who think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, 83% say their greater concern is over states making it too easy for people to get an abortion.

Demographic differences on this question are similar to those on whether abortion should be legal or illegal.