NEW YORK, NY (ABC News/Washington Post Results from ProLifeInfonet) - Twenty-eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal, although some Americans support abortion in very rare
circumstances, most Americans oppose the overwhelming number of abortions.
Generally, 59 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a
number that's held fairly steady the last several years -- however a
majority opposes legal abortion if it's performed solely to end an
unwanted pregnancy, which constitutes most abortions.
Indeed, views on abortion run a spectrum. At one end, eight in 10 or more
say abortion should be legal to preserve the mother's life or health, or
when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. At the other end, 55
percent say abortion should be illegal "when the woman is not married and
does not want the baby." That most Americans oppose most abortions has
been constant for many years.
The basic question asks if abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in
most cases, illegal in most cases or illegal in all cases -- this confuses
the issue when Americans' views on which abortions should be legal or
illegal is so nuanced. Relatively few people take the ends of the
spectrum: Twenty-one percent want abortion legal "in all cases," while 14
percent want it always illegal.
As long has been the case, women and men oppose abortion in roughly equal
numbers. Some 58 percent of men say abortion should be illegal to end an
unwanted pregnancy, so do 52 percent of women. Opposition to abortion also
is essentially the same among Catholics as among others -- again, as long
has been the case. In the specific case of an unwanted child, white
Catholics are nine points more likely than white Protestants to support
There are notable differences among political and ideological groups.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support abortion and
conservatives are more likely than liberals and moderates to oppose
abortion. Opposition is highest among the 9 percent of Americans who
describe themselves as part of the conservative Christian political
movement. Seventy percent in this group say abortion should be generally
People who say they voted for George W. Bush in November oppose abortion
in greater numbers than those who supported Al Gore. Bush supporters say
no to abortion by a 2-1 margin, 65-34 percent; Gore supporters say yes, by
a similar margin.
An analysis during the election found that pro-life women assigned the
highest importance to abortion as a factor in their vote, followed by
pro-life men. The lowest focus on the issue came from men who favor legal
There are differences in support for legal abortion among other groups:
It's lowest among older, less-educated and lower-income Americans, and
higher in the East and West than in the South or Midwest.
The public gives a comparatively low priority to one specific item on the
abortion agenda, a ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortion. Forty-five
percent say this should receive either a high priority or the highest
priority in Washington, ranking it last of 18 items tested. Among those
who say abortion should be generally illegal, 70 percent give priority to
a ban on partial-birth abortion. But among the majority who favor
generally legal abortion, just 28 percent give a priority to banning this
This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 11-15,
among a random national sample of 1,513 adults. The results have a
2.5-point error margin. Fieldwork conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham,
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