Americans Walk the Middle Road on Abortion

by Lydia Saad

But widely oppose partial-birth abortion

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The abortion issue continues to be a newsmaker in 2000, as it has been nearly continuously since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973. Last week the U.S. House voted by a veto-proof majority, 287-141, to ban the late-term abortion procedure often known as "partial-birth abortion." In another piece of news this year, the Food and Drug Administration's review of the French abortion pill, RU-486, appears to be further delayed, although approval could still be announced this year. Perhaps most significantly, pro-choice Republicans are gearing up for another battle over their party's platform position against abortion, a move certain to elevate the issue's importance at the GOP convention this summer in Philadelphia.

A recent Gallup poll, conducted March 30-April 2, updates where the public stands on abortion. In the broadest sense, the majority of Americans reject extreme positions on abortion and favor legalizing it under limited conditions. Just 28% think abortion should be legal under any circumstances and even fewer, 19%, think it should be illegal in all circumstances, while 51% say it should be legal "only under certain circumstances." These results are generally consistent with the public's position on the abortion issue in recent years. And, while there have been slight shifts in public abortion attitudes over the past 25 years, the basic pattern remains the same as when Gallup first asked about it in 1975.

When the large middle group -- consisting of those who believe that abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances" -- is asked whether abortion should be allowed in "most" or "only a few" circumstances, the majority chooses the conservative option, resulting in the following overall distribution of attitudes.

  National
Adults
Men Women
Legal under any circumstances 28% 25% 30%
Legal in most circumstances 11 13 10
Legal in only a few circumstances 38 42 35
Illegal in all circumstances 19 17 20
No opinion 4 3 5

No major differences are seen today between men and women on the abortion issue -- again, a finding that is consistent with Gallup's long-term trends.

The most common political labels used to identify proponents and opponents of abortion -- "pro-choice" and "pro-life" -- are roughly equally adopted by the American public. Just under half of Americans, 48%, consider themselves to be "pro-choice" while slightly fewer, 43%, call themselves "pro-life."

Opinion May Be Stable, but Is Also Complex
Even though public opinion about terminating a pregnancy has remained stable over time in the broad sense, the nature of that opinion appears decidedly ambiguous. The level of support for abortion appears to vary significantly, depending upon the specific circumstances under which the procedure takes place. It takes little probing, for example, to find that support for abortion rises to as high as 84% in circumstances in which the woman's life is in danger, and drops to as low as 8% for abortions conducted in the third trimester.

In fact, Americans appear to be sympathetic to many of the circumstances that compel some women to choose abortion. In addition to the "life of the mother" circumstance, most Americans think abortion should be legal when the woman's physical health is endangered (81%), or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest (78%). A majority also supports termination when the woman's mental health is endangered (64%), and when there is evidence the baby may be physically impaired (53%) or mentally impaired (53%). On the other hand, one circumstance Americans reject as valid is financial inability, with only 34% saying abortion should be legal when the woman or family cannot afford to raise the child; 62% reject this rationale.

When the public is asked about the legality of abortion according to the stage of the development of the fetus rather than the specific circumstances involved, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, while two-thirds or more say it should be illegal in the second and third trimesters.

  Legal Illegal DEPENDS (vol.) No opinion
First Trimester 65% 31 2 2
Second Trimester 24% 69 4 3
Third Trimester 8% 86 3 3

RU-486 Lacks Widespread Support
Interestingly, despite Americans' general acceptance of abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, the public tilts against legalizing a drug that induces abortions in the first trimester. Today, only 39% of Americans favor making the abortion pill RU-486 available in the United States as a prescription drug; 47% oppose it while 14% are unsure.

However, much of this opposition could be due to Americans' lack of familiarity with the drug. Only 54% say they have heard or read anything about RU-486. Among this group, approval of its introduction in the United States as prescription drug is relatively high, with 54% in favor and only 38% opposed. By contrast, disapproval of RU-486 is high among the 45% of Americans who have not heard of the drug. Among this group only 23% favor its use, while 58% are opposed.

"Partial-Birth" Procedures Consistently Opposed
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was originally introduced in Congress in 1995. Gallup polls since then indicate the public widely favors legislation that would place a national ban on a particular procedure used to perform late-term abortions, except in cases in which it is necessary to save the life of the mother. In the latest survey, 66% support the legislation to ban partial-birth abortions, while just 29% oppose it. In fact, the ban is supported by a majority of Democrats and those who call themselves "pro-choice" as well as by most Republicans and those who say they are "pro-life."

Last week, on April 5, the U.S. House of Representatives voted by 287-141 in favor of the Partial-Birth Ban Act -- a margin sufficient to override President Clinton's expected veto. However, the Senate already approved the bill last fall by just 63-34, a few votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override.

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 998 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 30-April 2, 2000. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?

Legal
under
any
circum-
stances
Legal
only
under
certain
circum-
stances
Illegal
in all
circum-
stances
No
opinion
% % % %
00 Mar 30 - Apr 2 28 51 19 2
00 Jan 13-16 26 56 15 3
99 Apr 30-May 2 27 55 16 2
98 Jan 16-18 23 59 17 1
97 Nov 6-9 26 55 17 2
97 Aug 12-13 22 61 15 2
96 Sep 20-22 24 52 17 7
96 Jul 25-28 25 58 15 2
95 Sep 22-25 31 54 12 3
95 Feb 24-26 33 50 15 2
94 Sep 6-7 33 52 13 2
94 Mar 28-30 31 51 15 3
93 Mar 12-14 32 51 13 4
92 Jul 23-24(#) 34 48 15 3
92 Jun 29 34 48 13 5
92 Jan 16-19 31 53 14 2
91 Sep 5-8 33 49 14 4
91 May 30-Jun 2 32 50 17 1
90 Sep 5-8 31 53 12 4
89 Jul 6-9 29 51 17 3
89 Jul 6-7(#) 29 51 17 3
89 Apr 12-13 (#) 27 50 18 5
88 Sep 25-Oct 1 24 57 17 2
85 Jan 3-4(#) 21 55 21 2
83 Jun 24-27 23 58 16 2
81 May 8-11 23 52 21 4
80 Jul 11-14 25 53 18 4
79 Feb 23-26 22 54 19 5
77 Dec 9-12 22 55 19 4
75 Apr 4-7 21 54 22 3
(#) Gallup/Newsweek
(If certain circumstances) Do you think abortion should be legal in most circumstances or only in a few circumstances?
Legal
under
any
circum-
stances
Legal
in
most
circum-
stances
Legal
only
in a few
circum-
stances
Illegal
in all
circum-
stances
No
opinion
  % % % % %
00 Mar
30-Apr 2
28 11 38 19 4
00 Jan
13-16
26 17 39 15 3
99 Apr
30-May 2
27 12 42 16 3
98 Jan
16-18
23 16 42 17 2
97 Nov
6-9
26 15 40 17 2
97 Aug
12-13
22 12 48 15 3
96 Jul
25-28
25 13 43 15 4
95 Sep
22-24
31 14 39 12 4
95 Feb
24-26
32 9 41 15 3
94 Sep
6-7
33 13 38 13 3

With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?

Pro-choice Pro-life DON'T KNOW
WHAT THE
TERMS MEAN (vol.)
MIXED/
BOTH/
NEITHER (vol.)
No opinion
  % % % % %
00 Mar 30-Apr 2 48 43 4 2 3
99 Apr 30-May 2 48 42 4 2 3
98 Jan 16-18 48 45 2 3 2
97 Nov 6-9 51 40 3 3 *
97 Aug 12-13 47 44 3 3 3
96 Jul 25-28 53 36 3 5 3
96 Jul 18-21 48 40 4 5 3
96 Mar 15-17 56 37 2 3 2
95 Sep 22-24 56 33 3 5 3

Thinking about how the abortion issue might affect your vote for major offices, would you -- only vote for a candidate who shares your views on abortion, consider a candidate's position on abortion as just one of many important factors when voting, or would you not see abortion as a major issue? [ROTATED]

  Candidate must share views One of many important factors Not a major issue No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 15% 49 33 3
1999 Apr 30-May 2 19% 51 27 3
1996 Jul 25-28 16% 51 30 3
1996 Jul 18-21 18% 48 30 4
1992 Jun 29 (**) 13% 46 36 5

(**) based on registered voters

Have you heard or read anything about RU-486, the so-called abortion pill?

  Yes No No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 54% 45 1
1996 Jul 25-28 65% 34 1
1993 Feb 26-28 64% 35 1

Would you, personally, favor or oppose making RU-486 -- an abortion pill -- available in the United States as a prescription drug?

  Favor Oppose No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 39% 47 14
1996 Jul 25-28 43% 44 13

Now I am going to read some specific situations under which an abortion might be considered. For each one, please say whether you think abortion should be legal in that situation, or illegal. How about ... ? [RANDOM ORDER]

  Should be legal Should be illegal DEPENDS (vol.) No opinion
When the woman's life is endangered
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 84% 12 2 2
1996 Jul 25-26 88% 7 3 2
When the woman's physical health is endangered
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 81% 15 2 2
1996 Jul 25-26 82% 11 5 2
When the woman's mental health is endangered
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 64% 29 3 4
1996 Jul 25-26 66% 27 5 2
When there is evidence that the baby may be physically impaired
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 53% 39 5 3
1996 Jul 25-26 53% 37 7 3
When there is evidence that the baby may be mentally impaired
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 53% 40 4 3
1996 Jul 25-26 54% 36 7 3
When the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 78% 19 1 2
1996 Jul 25-26 77% 18 3 2
When the woman or family cannot afford to raise the child
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 34% 62 2 2
1996 Jul 25-26 32% 62 3 3

Thinking more generally, do you think abortion should generally be legal or generally illegal during each of the following stages of pregnancy. How about ... ? [RANDOM ORDER]

  Should be legal Should be illegal DEPENDS (vol.) No opinion
In the first three months of pregnancy
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 65% 31 2 2
1996 Jul 25-26 64% 30 4 2
In the second three months of pregnancy
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 24% 69 4 3
1996 Jul 25-26 26% 65 7 2
In the last three months of pregnancy
2000 Mar 30- Apr 2 8% 86 3 3
1996 Jul 25-26 13% 82 3 2

If you could vote on this issue directly, would you vote for or against the following: a law which would make it illegal to perform a specific abortion procedure conducted in the last six months of pregnancy known as a "partial birth abortion," except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother?

Vote for/ Make procedure illegal Vote against/ Keep procedure legal No opinion
2000 Mar 30-Apr 2 66% 29 5
2000 Jan 13-16** 64% 31 5
1999 Apr 30-May 2 61% 34 5
1998 Jan 16-18** 61% 36 3
1997 Mar ** 55% 40 5
1996 Apr ** 57% 39 4

(**) Question wording:Next, do you favor or oppose the following proposal: A law which would make it illegal to perform a specific abortion procedure conducted in the last six months of pregnancy known as a "partial birth abortion," except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother?

(vol.) Volunteered response
* Less than 0.5%

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/3016/Americans-Walk-Middle-Road-Abortion.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030