Americans lack consensus on ideal abortion laws

David MontgomerySenior data journalist
December 07, 2023, 9:19 PM GMT+0

State and federal governments are permitted to legalize or ban abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade. But in this new environment, Americans are divided on the ideal laws about abortion, as a new Economist/YouGov survey shows.

The range of possible abortion laws covers a spectrum, from legal in all circumstances (supported by 27% of Americans) to a total ban (10%). A majority of Americans hold positions somewhere in between, with 28% saying abortion should be broadly legal but with some restrictions, and 34% saying it should be legal only in special circumstances, such as when the life of the mother is in danger.

Women are more likely than men to say abortion should be always legal.

Even within political parties, there's no consensus on the ideal abortion law. While most Democrats say abortion should be at least mostly legal, less than half of Democrats (40%) say abortion should be always legal. A majority of Republicans say abortion should be rarely or never legal, but just 16% back a total ban.

Each party has a substantial minority position on abortion. 30% of Democrats say abortion should be banned or legal only in special circumstances. 38% of Republicans say abortion should be mostly or always legal.

Legal abortion is significantly more popular among the 46% of Americans who say abortion is a "very important" issue to them. Among this group, 39% say abortion should always be legal, and another 21% that it should be mostly legal.

People who say abortion is an unimportant issue to them are the most likely to say abortion should be always (19%) or mostly illegal (38%).

The Dobbs ruling is somewhat unpopular

The Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, draws mixed-to-negative responses. 49% of Americans say they strongly disapprove or somewhat disapprove of the ruling, compared to 35% who strongly or somewhat approve of it.

Men are divided about Dobbs, with 43% approving and 41% disapproving. Women are much more negative: 28% approve and 56% disapprove. 61% of Republicans approve of the ruling, compared to only 16% of Democrats.

Both Americans who know someone who has had an abortion and people who don't are more likely to disapprove than approve of Dobbs. People who don't know anyone who's had an abortion are much more likely to not have an opinion about the Dobbs ruling, either for or against, than people who do know someone who had an abortion.

See the toplines and crosstabs from the Economist/YouGov poll conducted on December 2 - 5, 2023 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens.

Methodology: Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

Image: Getty (Chip Somodevilla)

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