While the pro-life movement has racked up victories in the courts and legislative bodies, it appears to be losing the battle for public opinion on abortion.
According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the highest it has been since that poll was first conducted in 1995.
The June 28 to July 1 poll of 1,008 U.S. adults asked, "Do you think abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases or illegal in all cases?" The margin of error for the full sample is 3.5 percentage points.
Twenty-seven percent answered abortion should be legal in all cases, 33% said legal in most cases, 22% said illegal in most cases, and 14% said illegal in all cases. Only 4% had no opinion.
The same question was polled four other times, according to The Washington Post, and the only other time that support for legal abortion polled that high was 1995, when the combined "legal in all cases" and "legal in most cases" was also 60%. In 2001, that number was 53%, followed by 51% (the lowest) in 2009, and 55% in 2013.
In the new poll, among the most pro-life (illegal in most or all cases) were conservative Republicans (61%) and white evangelicals (62%). The strong pro-choicers (legal in most or all cases) included those with no religion (85%) and liberal Democrats (79%).
Polling on abortion tends to be sensitive to question wording, but Gallup polls using a different question wording show a similar trend of increased support for the most pro-choice position.
Since 1976, Gallup has been polling abortion views with this question: "Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances or illegal in all circumstances?"
In the most recent poll, May 2018, those who believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances was close to an all-time high at 29%. Gallup also shows a general upward trend since July 2009, which matched an all-time low of 21%.
Polls are not all bad news for pro-lifers, however.
As Gallup pointed out in a June 2018 blog post, trimesters are key to understanding abortion opinion. While a strong majority of Americans, 60% in 2018, support keeping abortion legal in the first trimester, those numbers change dramatically when the fetus is more developed. Only 28 percent support keeping abortion legal in the second trimester and only 13 percent support keeping abortion legal in the third trimester.
These numbers illustrate that Democrat Party leaders represent only a small slice of the public on late-term abortion restrictions. At the recent Democrat presidential candidate debates, none of the candidates were willing to place any restrictions on abortion. The frontrunners also support government funding for abortion, a position which most Americans have consistently opposed.
Plus, the new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Democrat Party voters are more diverse on the abortion issue than party leaders. One in five Democrats (21%) say that abortion should be illegal in all (10%) or most (11%) cases. Only 42% of Democrats hold the position of the party leaders who say abortion should be legal in all cases.
After the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, a number of states began passing abortion laws, due to the suspicion that the court is now majority pro-life and will return abortion policy to the state level. Liberal states are passing more pro-choice laws while conservative states are passing more pro-life laws. (See, for instance, here and here.)
In addition to court appointments, the pro-life movement has achieved a number of other goals through the President Donald Trump administration, such as reimplementation of the "Mexico City Policy," which prevents foreign aid from going to organizations that promote abortion. The pro-life movement was unsuccessful, however, in attempts to defund abortion giant Planned Parenthood during the first two years of the Trump administration, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.
Last week, the National Right to Life Committee endorsed Trump for the 2020 election.