Majority Of Americans Oppose Overturning Roe v. Wade

A new poll shows that most Americans believe the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision should remain the law on the land. Opinion on other abortion-related issues is more divided.

A new Fox News poll indicates that a majority of Americans believe that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which established abortion rights in the United States some forty-six years ago, should remain the law of the land, but that the public remains as divided as ever on the underlying issue of the acceptability of abortion as a practice:

On the heels of controversial late-term abortion legislation from New York and Virginia in January and an early February Supreme Court ruling blocking a Louisiana state law that would have restricted access to the procedure, the latest Fox News Poll finds that voters remain divided on the issue.

The poll, conducted February 10-12 and released Wednesday, finds 44 percent of voters identifying as pro-life, while 46 percent are pro-choice.  That is similar to July 2018:  42 percent pro-life vs. 45 percent pro-choice.

Democrats (72 percent), women (52 percent), and voters under age 45 (53 percent) are nearly equally as likely to be pro-choice as Republicans (71 percent), men (49 percent), and those over 45 (51 percent) are to be pro-life.  Independents are split, 42 percent pro-life vs. 43 percent pro-choice.

And when asked about their familiarity with the most famous of abortion cases, Roe v. Wade, just under half (48 percent) say they are “extremely” or “very” familiar with the ruling while the exact same number are “somewhat” or “not at all” familiar.

Moreover, 57 percent of voters say the Supreme Court should let the 46-year old ruling stand; that number jumps to 68 percent among those who are familiar with the case.

Majorities of Democrats (73 percent), voters ages 45 and over (63 percent), women (59 percent), Catholics (59 percent), and men (54 percent) all feel the case should be left alone.  Even pluralities of Republicans (43 percent stand vs. 37 percent overturn) and Protestants (49-29 percent) would let the ruling stand.

Things are somewhat different when it comes to the more controversial issues of “late-term abortions,” which have become an increasing focus of the anti-abortion/pro-life movement in recent years:

So how do voters feel about late-term abortions?  Voters take a more nuanced view about late-term abortions than the traditional pro-choice/pro-life divide. One-in-ten (11 percent) think a woman’s right to have an abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy should “always” be legal, while 43 percent say “only in some circumstances,” and 37 percent say “never.”

Majorities of Republicans (58 percent) and white evangelical Christians (61 percent) think late-term abortions should be wholly illegal. Republican women (65 percent) are among the most opposed to third-trimester abortion.

Among women overall, 52 percent are pro-choice and 54 percent say third-trimester abortions should either be legal in all (11 percent) or some circumstances (43 percent).

Looking deeper into the poll there are some other interesting results:

  • Generally speaking, the American public is divided on whether Americans consider themselves “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” with 46% of respondents saying they consider themselves “pro-life” and 44% calling themselves “pro-choice.” By a 49% to 39% margin, men are more likely to consider themselves “pro-life,” while women break down in favor of “pro-choice” by a 52% to 39% margin. Among Republicans, 71% of respondents consider themselves “pro-life,” while 72% of Democrats consider themselves to be “pro-choice” and Independents are slightly more “pro-choice” than “pro-life” by a 43% to 42% margin;
  • On the question of what should happen to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, as noted the public as a whole supports keeping the decision in place by a 57% to 25% margin. Among men, 54% of respondents say the decision should be allowed to stand and 25% say that it should be overturned, Among women, 59% say the decision should be allowed to stand and 19% say it should be overturned. Perhaps the most surprising result comes in the party breakdown, though, where 43% of Republicans say the decision should stand while 37% say it should be overturned. Meanwhile, among Democrats, 73% say the decision should be allowed to stand while just 8% say it should be overturned. Among Independents, 49% say it should be allowed to stand while 15% say it should be overturned while 36% responded “Don’t Know”;
  • Finally, on the question of late-term third-trimester abortions, where the public as a whole says it should be legal under some (43%) or all (11%) circumstances and 37% say it should be illegal in all circumstances, the breakdown is also interesting. Among men, the majority believe it should be legal some (44%) or all (12%) circumstances, while 35% say it should be illegal under all circumstances. The numbers are largely the same among women, where a majority believe it should be legal in some (43%) or all (11%) circumstances. Among Republicans, the majority (58%) believe it should be illegal in all circumstances while a smaller group believes it should be illegal in some (31%) or all (5%) circumstances. Among independents, 36% believe it should be illegal in all circumstances while a plurality believes it should be legal in some (41%) or all (6%) circumstances.

These numbers are consistent with previous polling in recent years that have shown that, while the public remains largely divided on the acceptability of abortion as a process, the court’s decision in Roe is one that remains popular with the public as a whole. Last July, for example, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 71% of voters believed that Roe should be upheld while just 23% say it should be overruled. . A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, for example, found that 67% of Americans opposed overturning Roe while only 29% supported overturning it. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 63% of those surveyed opposed overturning the decision while only 31% supporting overturning it. Finally, and most recently prior to this poll, a Gallup poll found that 64% of those surveyed said that they opposed overturning the decision, while just 28% said they supported overturning it. If anything, this most recent Fox poll is somewhat out of step with the other polls in that the number of Americans favoring upholding Roe is smaller than in the other polls and it’s difficult to believe that support for the decision has dropped that significantly in the short period of time between when those polls were taken and now.

These poll results are interesting largely because they differ significantly from polling on more general questions about abortion itself show public opinion to be far more closely divided. The most recent Gallup poll on the subject, which was taken prior to the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement, showed the American public essentially evenly divided on the central issue of the debate of the abortion. In that poll, 48% of respondents identified themselves as “pro-life” and 48% identified as “pro-choice,” a result that is largely consistent with previous Gallup polls on the issue that go back to the beginning of the 21st Century. That same Gallup poll found that roughly half of all Americans should be legal under at least some circumstances, while 29% said it should be legal in all circumstances. Just 18%, meanwhile, said in response to the poll that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances. Based on these numbers, 80% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in “some or all” circumstances. In that regard, of course,  it’s worth noting that Roe and its progeny do not establish an unrestricted right to abortion, and instead recognize that there is a point during a pregnancy when the state could arguably have an interest in protecting an unborn child, particularly after the pregnancy has passed the point where a fetus would be viable outside of the womb.



FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Public Opinion Polls, Supreme Court, US Constitution, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. drj says:

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what Americans want, it matters what GOP donors want.

    So Trump is going after Planned Parenthood again.

    Of course, it’s unconscionable that people may be able to engage in some sexual intercourse* without running the risk that the rest of their lives is going to be seriously derailed for the sake of a cluster of cells.

    I mean, what else is going to put the fear of God in them?

    * He that has never had a condom break, let him cast the first stone.