Total Abortion Bans Are Overwhelmingly Unpopular in Every State

Even in states most hostile to reproductive rights, less than one quarter of respondents favor a total ban on abortion.

[Photo: Pro-choice activists hold signs as they rally to stop states’ abortion bans.]
“Support for complete bans is not there, even in the south, even in the most conservative states,” Natalie Jackson, PRRI research director, told Rewire.News. Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Public backing of draconian abortion restrictions remains low, with no state having more than 23 percent support for a total ban, according to a recent poll by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonpartisan research organization.

Although the overall result—58 percent support abortion being legal in all or most circumstances—mirrors the split reported by pollsters for decades, the PRRI poll is unique in that it includes a significant sample of people in each state. This reveals that even in states most hostile to abortion rights, less than one-quarter of respondents in favor a total ban.

“Support for complete bans is not there, even in the South, even in the most conservative states,” Natalie Jackson, PRRI research director, told Rewire.News.

The PRRI polling comes three months after the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that support for “heartbeat” banslaws that end legal abortion about six weeks into pregnancyplummeted when respondents were told what the laws actually do.

As reproductive rights advocates often point out, even states often thought of as conservative include significant numbers of people who are least able to travel long distances or comply with onerous and medically unnecessary requirements like forced waiting periods.

The disconnect partly explains why so many states that enacted near-total abortion bans this year also have laws to suppress voter turnout. For example, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) used his position as secretary of state when running for governor last year to purge voter rolls, delay voter registrations, and accuse Democrats of hacking without evidence. After defeating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in 2018, Kemp signed a near-total abortion ban in March 2019.

“These results demonstrate that the Republican-controlled legislatures who have passed state laws that amount to a virtual ban on abortion are out of touch not just with Americans overall but with residents of their own states and members of their own party,” PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones said in a statement.

Because of the large sample size, the PRRI survey was able to cover a broader variety of religious faiths than most studies. While Christianity is associated with lower support for abortion, the same doesn’t hold true for other faiths.

“There’s kind of an assumption that religious equals more conservative,” Jackson said. “Particularly, the non-Christian religious, move in the opposite direction.”

A majority of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, and Unitarian Universalist respondents supported legal abortion in all or most cases. Unitarian Universalists, had the highest level of support, at 83 percent.

The survey was partly funded by Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock in New York, as part of $50,000 they gave to PRRI. The organization gives money to a variety of civic and progressive causes, including $50,000 to Planned Parenthood of Nassau County and Planned Parenthood of Hudson Peconic.

Even within Christianity, opinions vary on abortion rights by race and denomination. White and Hispanic evangelical protestants have the lowest levels of support for legal abortion, at 30 percent and 32 percent, respectively, while Black non-evangelical protestants have the highest, at 67 percent.

While faiths other than Christianity are each a small sliver of the population, they collectively make up five percent of the population, or about 16 million people, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. The PRRI study suggests an additional explanation for the disconnect between residents and legislators in states that have passed bans on abortion: anti-abortion Republican voters seem more likely to treat abortion as a litmus test than pro-choice Democratic voters.

The PRRI poll complements existing research. Pew, another organization focused on religion and policy, has polled Americans on abortion for years, consistently finding between 55 percent and 60 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Gallup polls typically find that about 78 percent of Americans think that abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. The results are also largely confirmed by polls that approach the question using different models.

The PRRI survey showed that people ages 18 to 29 “have changed their opinion to be more supportive (19%) rather than opposed (10%) to abortion by nearly a margin of two to one,” while other age groups show “more balanced changes.”

Avalanche Strategy, a progressive research organization, released a survey in June that found 72 percent of Americans are opposed to regulating abortion. Twenty-nine percent are personally uncomfortable with abortion rights but prioritize freedom and are against government preventing people from choosing abortion care. Only 26 percent are both uncomfortable with abortion and want abortion care to be illegal. 

The survey uses a mix of traditional close-ended polling questions and more open-ended that the company then analyzes. Tovah Paglaro, COO of Avalanche Strategy, described their approach as “human-in-the-loop.” Initially, experts categorize a small number of the responses, then train a computer to mimic their analysis on a larger scale, which is then verified. Paglaro told Rewire.News that the open-ended approach helped uncover what they call the “freedom first” group—voters who are uncomfortable with abortion but against government limiting the right.

“The freedom first segment is a little different,” she said. “They don’t necessarily identify as pro-choice the same way…They want to protect individual freedom to choose.”