Public Opinion on Abortion in May 2022.

            Broadly, a majority of Americans support the right to abortion in most or all cases, while a large minority opposes it in most or all cases.  On average, 54 percent of Americans support the right to an abortion, while 41 percent oppose it.  In a more murky fashion, a larger majority (better than 60 percent) believe that Roe v. Wade should be maintained.  At the same time, about as many people believe that abortion should be limited to the first trimester.  So long as Roe v. Wade nationalized the right to an abortion, the law reflected democratic preference. 

However, Americans are regionally fractured over the issue of abortion.[1]  In thirteen states, state legislatures have passed laws that will automatically ban abortion IF the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.[2]  These states are clustered in the West and the South.  This too is democracy in action: polls show that 52 percent of the people in these states oppose abortions in most or all cases, while 43 percent say that it should be legal in most or all cases. 

In contrast, support for abortion rights is strongest in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, in the Far West, and the Upper Mid-West.[3]  There are 25 states in this group. 

These groupings contain puzzles.  Anti-abortion opinion is strongest in seven Southern and Border states.[4]  While, opinion in Alabama and West Virginia is clearly in the anti-abortion camp, neither state has yet passed a law outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.   Opinion in South Carolina, Indiana, and Nebraska is mildly in the anti-abortion camp, but none of these states has yet passed such a law.  In contrast, opinion in both Missouri and Oklahoma is mildly pro-abortion rights, but both states have passed laws banning abortion if the Supreme Court tosses Roe v. Wade. 

What might be the political consequences if the Supreme Court de-nationalizes the right to an abortion and returns the decision to the states?  A great wave of outrage probably will arise in all the pro-abortion states.  In most of these states, however, support for the right to an abortion is already a litmus test for politicians.  In the anti-abortion states, opposition to abortion is already a litmus test for politicians.  Yelling and screaming doesn’t get you anywhere.[5]  Organizing and campaigning does get you somewhere in a democracy. 

There are seven states where majority opinion supports legal abortion by less than 1 percent to less than 10 percent.[6]  One key goal for supporters of a right to abortion may be to secure control of the state houses in these seven states.  Similarly, one key goal for opponents of abortion may be to flip these states. 

Of course, the Supreme Court may decide that abortion anywhere is a threat to unborn life everywhere. 

[1] Nate Cohn, “How Opinions On Abortion Vary, And Why That Matters,” NYT, 5 May 2022. 

[2] Those states are Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  Florida has passed a law banning abortions after the first trimester. 

[3] States with a better than 10 percent majority in favor of abortion rights are Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, all of New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. 

[4] To use the terminology of the Civil War.  They are Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. 

[5] Except put to bed without your supper in the old days. 

[6] Montana, New Mexico, Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia. 

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