Political candidates, consultants and the media generally misunderstand the politics of abortion rights. They tend to believe either that most voters oppose abortion or that the anti-abortion base is larger than the abortion rights base. But neither is true.
A recent nationwide poll by Ann Selzer (declared “The Best Pollster in Politics” by FiveThirtyEight), commissioned by the Public Leadership Institute, proves that voters overwhelmingly support abortion rights both in general and when asked about specific reproductive rights policies. In addition, the poll shows that those who “strongly support” abortion rights substantially outnumber those who “strongly oppose” it.
Our poll found that by a margin of 69-to-27 percent, American voters approve of the constitutional right to abortion established by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. This result is similar to many polls over the years that have found Americans approving Roe by margins of 2-to-1 or greater.
Our poll also asked whether abortion is an issue that matters a lot, matters a little, or doesn’t make much difference. While it is true that the anti-abortion side is more likely to say “matters a lot,” the anti-Roerespondents who say abortion “matters a lot” account for only 21 percent of the electorate while the pro-Roerespondents who say abortion “matters a lot” account for 29 percent.
When asked a different way, rating abortion with a scale from 1-to-10 where 1 means totally opposed to all abortions and 10 meaning totally favoring complete access to abortion, only 28 percent answered 1, 2 or 3 while 44 percent said 8, 9 or 10. Any way you measure it, the strong supporters of abortion rights greatly exceed the strong opponents.
Furthermore, when asked about specific proactive measures, voters strongly favor the side for reproductive rights. The poll tested ideas from our Playbook for Abortion Rights, a volume that includes dozens of model bills.
On the issue of birth control, Americans favor, by a margin of 86-to-11 percent, that when a woman reports a sexual assault to authorities they be required to inform her about emergency contraception, also called the morning after pill (the Rape Survivor Information Act). By 84-to-13 percent, Americans want to require pharmacies to dispense contraceptives to any woman with a lawful prescription and to stock over-the-counter emergency contraception (the Women’s Right to the Pill Act). And by 82-to-14 percent, they favor creating programs to raise awareness of the effectiveness of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as IUDs and implants (the Long-Acting Birth Control Information Act).
Concerning crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are facilities that look like medical clinics but actively try to stop women from having abortions, Americans favor, by a margin of 77-to-18 percent, requiring that those which receive government funding cannot give a woman medically false information, such as the claim that abortion causes cancer (the Truth in Medicine Act). By 75-to-21 percent, voters want CPCs that are not licensed to practice medicine to have to post a sign saying so (the Pregnancy Center Disclosure Act). And by 62-to-33 percent, they want to ban CPCs from using ads to mislead pregnant women into believing that the CPC offers abortion services (the Crisis Pregnancy Center Fraud Prevention Act).
And more specifically addressing abortion rights:
81 percent favor protecting staff and patients who enter and exit abortion clinics from anti-abortion harassment and violence by requiring protesters to remain at least 8 feet away from them (the Clinic Safety Zone Act).
75 percent favor protecting employees from being fired or punished for their health decisions, such as having an abortion, having a child, or taking contraceptives (the Keep Bosses Out of the Bedroom Act).
60 percent favor allowing nurse practitioners to dispense and supervise medication abortion (the Access to Medication Abortion Act).
60 percent favor allowing a woman is seeking an abortion to opt out of state-mandated, medically unnecessary sonograms and waiting periods if she does not believe they are necessary to making her own healthcare decisions (the Abortion with Dignity Act).
55 percent favor requiring all health insurance plans, including Medicaid, to cover legal abortion services (the Abortion Coverage Equity Act).
Significantly, eight of these specific reproductive rights measures are favored by a majority of those voters who want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion voters are far more reasonable than their movement’s leaders.
If political elites understood what voters want in reproductive rights, we’d see a very different policy debate. Elected officials and advocates who support abortion rights would boldly introduce proactive legislation at the federal, state and local levels and force their anti-abortion opponents to defend unpopular positions. The political tide would turn. And, in time, the will of the people would prevail.