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Poll: 76%, including most pro-choice Americans, favor restrictions on abortion

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People participate in the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2020. |

A new survey has found that an overwhelming majority of Americans, and most who identify as “pro-choice,” favor implementing significant restrictions on the legality of abortion in the United States.

A Marist poll, released Wednesday that is sponsored by the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus, interviewed 1,173 adults in the U.S. about a week before President Joe Biden was inaugurated this month.

Exchanges were selected to ensure that each region of the country was represented in proportion to its population. The sample was balanced based on the 2017 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race and region. The data features a sampling error of no more than 3.5 percentage points.

According to the data, about three-quarters of all respondents said that they favor significant restrictions on abortion.

At a time when there are many polarizing issues in American politics, the survey also shows that a majority of respondents who identified as “pro-choice” said they also favor implementing certain restrictions on abortion not backed by the Democratic Party.

Among all respondents surveyed, 53% identified as “pro-choice,” 43% identified as “pro-life,” while 4% said they were “unsure.”

Respondents were asked to identify among four statements which statement best aligns with their opinions on abortion.

Only 15% of respondents (27% of pro-choice respondents) selected the statement that abortion should be “available to a woman any time during her entire pregnancy.”

About 10% of respondents (17% of pro-choice respondents) selected the answer that abortion should be available “only during the first six months of a pregnancy.” The data indicates that only 44% of pro-choice respondents believe that abortion should at the very least be legal during the first six months of pregnancy, if not throughout the whole pregnancy.

About 76% of respondents said they favor at least some form of limitation on legal abortion. The data shows that 25% of respondents (35% of pro-choice respondents and 14% of pro-life respondents) believe that abortion should be legal “only during the first three months of a pregnancy.”

Meanwhile, 28% of all respondents (40% of pro-life respondents and 16% of pro-choice respondents) said that abortion should be legal “only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.”

About 11% of all respondents answered that abortion should only be legal “to save the life of the mother.” Just 2% of pro-choice respondents agreed, while 21% of pro-life respondents selected that answer.

Additionally, 12% of respondents — 2% of pro-choice respondents and 23% of pro-life respondents — said that abortion “should never be permitted under any circumstance.”

When combined, about 55% of pro-choice respondents favor limiting abortion access to the first three months of pregnancy or favor tougher limitations. By comparison, 98% of pro-life respondents favor limiting abortion at the very least to three months of pregnancy or favor tougher restrictions.

“While the number of people who identify as ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ tends to fluctuate with the public debate when given a broader choice of policy options, there is a strong consensus among Americans on abortion,” Marist Poll Director Dr. Barbara Carvalho said in a statement.

As Democrats in U.S. Congress push to eliminate a longstanding measure that prevents tax dollars from being used to fund abortion, the Marist survey also found that about six in 10 respondents (58%) “oppose or strongly oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.”

That figure includes 34% of pro-choice respondents and 31% of Democratic respondents. By comparison, 87% of pro-life respondents and 83% of Republican respondents said the same.

According to the survey, 77% of total respondents (64% of pro-choice respondents and 55% of Democrats) oppose or strongly oppose using tax dollars to “support abortion in other countries.”

About seven in 10 respondents (59% of Democrats and 56% of pro-choice respondents) said they oppose or strongly oppose “abortion because the child will be born with Down Syndrome.”

Respondents were also asked their thoughts on how the U.S. Supreme Court should rule if it ever reconsiders the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which made abortion a national right.

The survey found that 48% of respondents said they want the court to “allow certain restrictions on abortions as determined by each state.” By comparison, 31% said they think the court should “allow abortion to be legal without restriction at any time.”

About 17% of respondents said they think the court should “make abortion illegal.”

Although the survey’s previous questioning found that most pro-choice respondents favor further limits to abortion, 53% of pro-choice respondents and 51% of Democrats said they think the Supreme Court should “allow abortion to be legal without restriction at any time” if it reconsiders Roe.

“Amidst the harsh political divides in our country, clear bipartisan majorities support abortion restrictions and do not want their tax dollars paying for abortion abroad,” stated Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson. “Our polling has shown consistently over the past decade that policies that promote abortion on demand paid for by taxpayers are divisive and out of step with American public opinion.”

This week’s findings mirror the results of similar surveys conducted by Marist and Knights of Columbus over the years. A survey from 2016 found that six out of 10 pro-choice respondents favored banning abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy.

"What we have found each year [since 2008] is that the split over the labels masks a very real consensus — a consensus of Americans who favor substantial restrictions on abortion, a consensus who see abortion as morally wrong and ultimately harmful to women," Patrick Kelly, Knights of Columbus vice president of public policy, said at a press conference at the time.

In 2019, another Marist survey found that more than six in 10 Americans say they want Roe to be reinterpreted to allow additional restrictions on abortion. However, another Marist poll released later that year sponsored by NPR/PBS NewsHour found that 77% of respondents believe that the Supreme Court should uphold the court’s ruling, with 26% saying they think more restrictions should be added.

That survey also found that 61% said they favored a combination of limitations on abortion.

This month, the pro-life activist organization Students for Life of America released a poll of 800 Americans ages 18 to 34 that it sponsored, showing more than seven out of 10 respondents expressed support for limits on abortion while less than two out of 10 support unlimited abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.

"Asked directly about reversing Roe to return the issue of abortion to the states, more Millennials and Gen Zers supported doing so than opposed it, by a margin of 44% in favor to 36% opposed with 18% unsure," Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins wrote in an op-ed announcing the poll published by Real Clear Politics.

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