The ongoing debate surrounding abortion is once again in the spotlight, with the Supreme Court and state legislatures across the country at the center of attention. According to a recent survey, the majority of U.S. adults continue to believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Approximately 61% of Americans support legalizing abortion in “all” or “most” instances, while 37% are of the opinion that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These figures have remained fairly stable over the past few years. In 2019, for instance, 61% of adults expressed support for legal access to abortions, while 38% disagreed.
Views on Abortion
The survey participants who initially stated that abortion should either be legal in all cases or illegal in all cases were asked if there should be any exceptions to these laws. Overall, 25% of respondents who initially supported legal abortions in all cases believed that there should be some exceptions to this rule. Similarly, 10% of respondents who initially believed that abortion should be illegal in all cases said that there should be exceptions in certain situations.
In total, 70% of Americans believe that there should be a compromise on the question of abortion, with varying degrees of legality. This includes 42% who support legal abortion with some exceptions and 29% who believe it should be generally illegal, except in certain cases. Smaller portions of the population hold absolute views, with 19% arguing for unrestricted legal access to abortion and 8% advocating for making abortion illegal in all circumstances.
Gender and Age Differences
There is a minor discrepancy between men and women with regards to their stance on abortion legality. Women are slightly more likely than men to support legal abortion in all or most cases (63% vs. 58%).
Younger adults are more inclined to support legal abortion. Among adults under 30, 74% believe that abortion should be generally legal, with 30% supporting unrestricted access. In contrast, older adults are less likely to support legal abortion, with 60% of those aged 50 and older expressing this view.
Political and Ideological Divides
The partisan divide on the issue of abortion has become more pronounced in recent years. While 80% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, only 38% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents share this view. This gap has grown over the past 15 years.
However, even within each political party, there are differences of opinion. Among Republicans, 13% believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases without exception, while 47% support making it illegal with some exceptions. On the Democratic side, 30% believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, while 50% believe it should be mostly legal but with some exceptions.
There are also divisions within each political group based on ideology. For instance, 60% of moderate and liberal Republicans believe that abortion should be mostly legal, while only 27% of conservative Republicans share this view. Among Democrats, self-described liberals are twice as likely as moderates and conservatives to support legal abortion in all cases without exception (42% vs. 20%).
Religious Affiliation and Abortion Views
Religious affiliation plays a significant role in shaping attitudes toward abortion. Among major Christian subgroups and religiously unaffiliated Americans, there are notable differences in opinions.
White evangelical Protestants strongly oppose abortion. About three-quarters (75%) believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. In contrast, the figures for White non-evangelical Protestants and Black Protestants are 38% and 28%, respectively.
Interestingly, despite Catholic teachings on abortion, a slim majority of U.S. Catholics (56%) support its legality. This includes 13% who believe abortion should be legal in all cases with no exceptions, and 43% who support its legality but with some exceptions.
In comparison to Christians, religiously unaffiliated adults are more inclined to support legal abortion. The majority of atheists (97%) believe that abortion should be legal, with 53% supporting unrestricted access. Agnostics and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” also overwhelmingly support legal abortion, although they are more likely than atheists to believe that some circumstances warrant making abortion illegal.
It is worth noting that the survey did not include enough respondents from non-Christian groups to provide separate analysis of their views.
Abortion at Different Stages of Pregnancy
Views on the legality of abortion vary depending on the stage of pregnancy. A majority of adults (56%) believe that the duration of the pregnancy should factor into the decision of whether abortion should be legal, while a smaller proportion (14%) believe it should not be a consideration. The remaining respondents either believe abortion should always be legal or illegal and did not receive this specific question.
Americans are more likely to support restrictions on abortion as the pregnancy progresses. At six weeks into a pregnancy, around when cardiac activity can be detected and before many women are aware of their pregnancy, a plurality of adults (44%) believe abortion should be legal. This includes 19% who support unrestricted access and an additional 25% who believe it should be legal up to that point.
At 14 weeks into a pregnancy (the end of the first trimester), more people believe abortion should be legal (34%) than illegal (27%), with about one-fifth saying it depends on other factors.
Support for legal abortion decreases further at 24 weeks, approximately the stage at which a healthy fetus can survive outside the womb with medical care. At this point, 22% believe abortion should be legal, while 43% believe it should be illegal. Around one-fifth of respondents (18%) say the legality of abortion at 24 weeks depends on other factors.
Respondents who believe abortion at 24 weeks should be illegal or that it depends on other factors were asked whether there should be exceptions for cases in which the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or the baby would be born with severe disabilities. The majority of those in this group (54%) believe abortion should be legal in these circumstances, while 40% believe it depends on other factors. Only 4% maintained that abortion should be illegal in these cases.
Parental Notification for Minors Seeking Abortion
The survey also investigated opinions on whether doctors or other healthcare providers should be required to notify parents or legal guardians if a pregnant woman seeking an abortion is under 18 years old. 70% of U.S. adults believe that parental notification should be mandatory, while 28% disagree.
Women are slightly less likely than men to support parental notification (67% vs. 74%). Younger adults, particularly those between 18 and 24 years old, are less likely to believe that a parent or guardian needs to be notified before a doctor performs an abortion on a minor. Conversely, 78% of adults aged 50 and older support parental notification.
There is a significant partisan divide on this issue. 85% of Republicans believe that doctors should be required to notify parents, with conservative Republicans more likely to hold this view than their moderate and liberal counterparts (90% vs. 77%). Democrats are divided, with a slim majority (57%) supporting parental notification. However, there is a notable difference between conservative and moderate Democrats (72% support) and liberal Democrats (39% support).
Religiously affiliated adults, including Protestants (81%) and Catholics (78%), are more likely to support parental notification compared to religiously unaffiliated Americans. Among the religiously unaffiliated, atheists (71%) and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (60%) are less supportive of parental notification, while agnostics (58%) are evenly split.
Penalties for Abortions Performed Illegally
Public opinion is divided on the issue of penalties for individuals involved in abortions performed illegally. Overall, 60% of adults believe that doctors or healthcare providers who perform illegal abortions should face penalties. However, there is less agreement when it comes to penalizing women who undergo illegal abortions, with 47% believing they should face penalties and 50% contending they should not. Additionally, adults are more likely to oppose penalties for those who aid in finding, scheduling, or financing an illegal abortion.
Views on penalties correlate closely with overall attitudes towards the legality of abortion. For example, among those who believe abortion should be legal in all cases without exception, only 20% advocate for penalties for healthcare providers in situations where abortion is illegal. In contrast, 91% of those who support making abortion illegal in all cases endorse penalties for healthcare providers. Regardless of their views on abortion legality, Americans are more likely to support penalties for healthcare providers compared to others involved in the procedure.
Opinions differ on the severity of penalties. Approximately 14% of adults believe women who have illegal abortions should serve jail time, while 16% argue for fines or community service. Meanwhile, 25% believe doctors or healthcare providers should serve jail time, and 31% think they should lose their medical license.
Men are more likely than women to support penalties for both women and doctors in situations where abortion is illegal. Among Republicans, 40% believe doctors who perform illegal abortions should serve jail time, while only 13% of Democrats hold this view.
White evangelical Protestants are more likely than other Christian groups to favor penalties for illegal abortions. For instance, 24% of white evangelical Protestants believe women who have illegal abortions should serve jail time, compared to only 12% of white non-evangelical Protestants and black Protestants. Similarly, 48% of white evangelical Protestants think doctors who perform illegal abortions should serve jail time, while only 26% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 18% of black Protestants share this view.
In summary, the issue of abortion continues to be a highly contentious issue in the United States. The majority of Americans support legal access to abortion, but with some restrictions. Views on abortion differ based on factors such as gender, age, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and the specific circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. The survey also reveals divisions over parental notification for minors seeking abortion and the implementation of penalties for individuals involved in illegal abortions.