One in four Americans say they’ve changed their minds on abortion

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
May 13, 2022, 5:51 PM GMT+0

As with many contentious issues, there is often an assumption that people's opinions on abortion are more or less set in stone. Yet a recent YouGov poll finds that more than one in four Americans (27%) report having changed their mind on the issue of abortion at some point in their lives. Most people who say they’ve changed their views (46%) say they became more accepting of abortion access over time, while fewer (37%) say they became less accepting. Among the groups examined, the ones most likely to say they've changed their minds are parents, people with a college degree, and people who know someone who has had an abortion.

We asked people who said they've shifted their opinions to tell us in their own words how and why their views on abortion changed. The quotes below come from people who say they changed by becoming more in favor of abortion rights. This group of people cited a variety of factors including personal experiences with abortion and a loss of religious faith. Some people cited increased distance from religious schooling or upbringing as they aged, allowing them to see the issue in a different light. Other factors cited include maturity, college education, experience working in healthcare, and experiences with infertility, miscarriage, and parenthood. One respondent shared a particularly harrowing story in which her uncle forced her aunt to undergo an illegal abortion that resulted in her aunt’s death.

People who say they became less in favor of abortion rights over time attributed their change in opinion to religious, moral, and scientific revelations, as well as personal experiences with pregnancy and parenthood. One man mourned an abortion his wife had that he objected to. One woman attributed her change in views to the psychological distress she felt after having an abortion. Others noted that their views changed after seeing ultrasound pictures and learning about the stages of fetal development. Some say that their opinion shifted once contraception became widely available, which they believed should eliminate the need for abortion.

We also asked Americans, including those who have changed their minds and those who haven’t, which factors (from a list of 22) shaped their current views on abortion. Half of Americans – including the 58% who say abortion should mostly be legal and the 42% who say it shouldn’t be – say that their views on abortion are shaped by their opinions on human rights. The second most common response – “my moral values” — was selected by 44% of people, though it was far more likely to be cited as a reason by people who say abortion should be illegal (61%) than by people who say it should be legal (36%). Over one in three Americans (37%) say their perspectives were influenced by the way they were raised; people who oppose legalizing abortion are far more likely to say this (52%) than are people who support legalizing it (28%).

People who say abortion should be mostly legal are more likely than people who don’t to say their views are influenced by…

  • Their opinions on human rights (58% of people who say abortion should be mostly legal say this)
  • Their views on gender equality and women’s rights (52%)
  • Their views on bodily autonomy (31%)
  • Their relationships with people who have had abortions (25%)
  • The news they’ve consumed (22%)
  • Their personal experiences with unintended pregnancy (21%)
  • Formal education they’ve received (20%)
  • Books they’ve read (17%)
  • Their personal experiences with abortion (15%)

People who say abortion should be mostly illegal are more likely than people who say it should mostly be legal to say their views are influenced by…

  • Their moral values (61% of people who say abortion should be mostly illegal say this)
  • Their current religious beliefs (54%)
  • How they were raised (52%)
  • The religion they were raised in (46%)
  • Their experiences becoming a parent (32%)
  • Seeing ultrasound pictures (27%)

About as many from each camp on abortion legality cited their understanding of medical science, their interpretation of the Constitution, personal experiences with miscarriage, and posts they’ve read on social media.

– Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

This article includes findings from the following polls: