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Support for abortion rights overall has increased as state legislatures and courtrooms have instituted a growing number of restrictions and bans, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults say they support abortion rights, marking a 6-percentage point increase since last June.
Nearly a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, U.S. opinions about that consequential decision remain largely unchanged in this latest poll. A majority of U.S. adults – 59 percent – still say they oppose the justices’ decision, which removed federal protections for many reproductive health care services, while another 40 percent of Americans agree with the nation’s highest court.
Those who say they mostly support abortion rights include 84 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents. At the same time, 37 percent of Americans overall oppose abortion rights, including 67 percent of Republicans.
Chart by Jenna Cohen/PBS NewsHour
For decades, people responded to poll questions about abortion access with an almost “abstract quality,” as if “there was no possibility that you would have the six-week ban, for example. That wasn’t going to happen,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who wrote, “Roe: The History of a National Obsession.”
“You’re starting to see states put this on the radar, and Americans waking up to the fact that this could happen,” she said.
When asked whether abortion should be allowed up until 24 weeks – around when the fetus can be viable outside the womb and before which almost all abortions are performed – 44 percent of Americans said yes. Such laws, favored by a majority of abortion-rights supporters in this poll, saw a 10-percentage point increase since May.
Here is a look at a few ways that U.S. public opinions have shifted on abortion.
Support for abortion falls across a spectrum. While a majority of Americans – 66 percent – say abortion should be prohibited after the first three months of pregnancy, that attitude has diminished from 84 percent nearly two decades ago.
Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans — 34 percent — think abortion should be allowed at least up until the first six months of pregnancy, if not throughout the entire pregnancy. That support has more than doubled since May 2009, when 14 percent of Americans felt that way.
At the far ends of the spectrum, two in 10 Americans think abortion should be permitted at any time during pregnancy (especially true among Democrats, Biden voters, adults aged 44 or younger and people who graduated from college), while one in 10 Americans think abortion should never be allowed under any circumstances.
“You have an incredible consensus of Americans who think abortion should be legal in some circumstances,” said Barbara Carvalho, who directs the Marist Poll. “Our public debate has now moved all the way to the 9 percent” of people who do not want abortion performed – no exceptions.
READ MORE:Supreme Court’s move on abortion pill in line with majority of Americans
While more Americans think Democrats do a better job than Republicans at dealing with abortion, a quarter of U.S. adults overall think neither party handles the issue well, according to this latest poll. That cynicism has jumped 10-percentage points in the few months since November, and is especially strong among independents (38 percent).
Since last June, more than a dozen states have outright banned abortion, lawmakers in several more states have passed tighter restrictions, and the percentage of Americans who say they know someone personally who has had the procedure has dropped 5 percentage points.
Overall, 61 percent of Americans say they know someone who has had an abortion, compared to 66 percent last summer.
While it is not immediately clear what accounts for the change, Ziegler said the threat of fines or jail time for patients or people who aid them may silence those who otherwise might have been more open about saying they had an abortion.
When Roe was overturned, “We were coming out of the era of abortion storytelling and ‘Shout your abortion,’” Ziegler said. “Obviously, the specter of criminal and civil penalties is going to change that.”
READ MORE: What polling does — and doesn’t — tell us
Yet this poll suggested that there were some ways that Americans’ views on restrictions have softened. Since May, when the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson was leaked, a growing share of Americans — 70 percent — say abortion should be allowed at any time during pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, up from 63 percent.
More than two-thirds of U.S. adults support laws that provide safe haven for people from out of state seeking abortions, a 5-percentage point increase from last May. This is notable given how states, including Idaho, have moved to criminalize the act of helping others evade abortion restrictions where they live by leaving their state to get the care they need.
For people in places that ban or severely restrict access to abortion, Ziegler said these questions are no longer abstractions: “You may just feel you’re paying a different kind of price. It may not be just in principle, ‘What do you think about this?’”
Some people in states with abortion bans do not support those measures. In this latest poll, people in states with fewer laws impeding abortion showed slightly greater support for some abortion restrictions than people in states with more laws. People in states with more laws against abortion access tended to voice greater opposition to those laws.
“The fact that there are a few more percentage points of opposition doesn’t really surprise me that much because it’s a reality they’re living with,” said Stephanie Calvano, director for data science and technology for the Marist Poll. With federal protections to create a baseline level of access to abortion, she said “everyone’s playing by a different set of rules now.”
Sarisa Orange, 52, of Skiatook, Oklahoma, is one of them. The mother of twins said she had an abortion when she was in her 30s and expecting a third child. As a nurse in a hospital’s neonatal unit, Orange said she also had seen women deliver newborns who never had a chance at surviving outside of the womb.
“There are reasons why women have to have one,” she said. “You can’t take that away.”
The PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey between April 17 and April 19 that polled 1,291 U.S. adults with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points and 1,176 registered voters with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Laura Santhanam is the Health Reporter and Coordinating Producer for Polling for the PBS NewsHour, where she has also worked as the Data Producer. Follow @LauraSanthanam
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