Supporters and opponents of Roe v. Wade think it is at least as likely as not to be overturned

October 05, 2021, 2:51 PM UTC

This term the Supreme Court will hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case concerning a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The ruling could impact, and perhaps overturn, Roe v. Wade, the decision that gave women the right to have abortions while allowing the government to set limits protecting women's health.

By nearly two to one in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll (51% to 27%), Americans do not want to overturn the 1973 ruling. Support for overturning Roe v. Wade comes from most Republicans (55% want to see it overturned, with 26% disagreeing). Men are more likely than women to want the law changed. There is a 12-point gender gap overall: 33% of men but just 21% of women would like the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. There are gender differences among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

But most give the likelihood of that happening at least a 50% chance, with supporters of Roe v. Wade more likely to believe – or perhaps to worry – that the Supreme Court will take that step. 

Most Americans have heard about the new Mississippi and Texas laws. The Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; the Texas law after 6 weeks, when a fetal heartbeat may be detected and when some women may not realize they are pregnant. The bill also has no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and deputizes individuals to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion. 

Just over one-third of the public nationwide (36%) approves of the Texas law. Half do not. 

The Mississippi law, allowing abortions a few weeks beyond the first trimester, divides the country more closely: 45% say they approve of this law, 41% disapprove. 

Abortion

The inclusion of a procedure in the Texas law allowing individuals to sue those who aid in an illegal abortion raises questions about whether Americans think someone should be punished. Here again responses differ by party and between men and women.

Republicans, who are the most likely to oppose abortion, are most supportive of punishment following an illegal abortion. Nearly half of Republicans would punish the woman involved, while nearly two-thirds would have the doctor involved punished. Seven in ten Democrats would punish no one. There are also large differences between men and women when it comes to punishment. However, in all groups, relatively few would punish the man responsible for the pregnancy, and in all cases, more would punish the doctor performing the abortion than the woman receiving one.

Opinions about abortions are complex and sometimes appear contradictory: One can in principle be completely against legal abortions and yet agree that in certain circumstances abortion should be permitted. For example, more than one-third of those who say that “Abortion should be illegal, it should never be allowed” believe abortion should be permitted in at least one of about eight specific circumstances asked about (most often that would be to protect the health of the woman, in the case of rape or incest, and if the fetus has a congenital abnormality).

As for how late in a pregnancy abortion should be permitted, Americans converge somewhere around the first trimester (which is where the 1973 Supreme Court gave the decision-making to terminate a pregnancy solely to the woman involved, though states could have a role in ensuring the safety of the procedure). Democrats and Republicans hold different views here, too.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between September 26 - 28, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty