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Religious Tolerance logo

Public opinion polls on abortion:


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Who opposes and who supports abortion access?:

Opposition to widespread abortion access in North America is found more frequently among:

bulletLeadership of the Roman Catholic Church
bulletFundamentalists, Evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews and Muslims;
bulletOlder persons;
bulletPeople with less education;
bulletPersons with lower income;
bulletPolitical conservatives;
bulletRepublicans; and

Support for widespread abortion access is found more frequently among:

bulletMembership of the Roman Catholic church
bulletMainline Protestants, liberal Protestants and Reform Jews;
bulletYounger persons;
bulletPeople with higher educational attainments;
bulletPersons with higher income;
bulletPolitical moderates and liberals,
bulletDemocrats and Independents; and

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Are most Americans pro-life or pro-choice?

The question is basically unanswerable, for a number of reasons:

bulletSome women are pro-life as far as their own situation is concerned, but are pro-choice for others. That is, they would not choose to have an abortion themselves, but feel that all women should be given the freedom to choose.
bulletThe term "pro-life" covers a wide range of viewpoints, ranging from:
bulletPreventing women from gaining access to emergency contraception ("morning after pill")
bulletLimiting abortions to situations that:
bulletWill cause severe health injury to the woman.
bulletPose a risk to the woman's life.
bulletInvolve a very seriously genetically malformed fetus with no chance of living more than a few hours after birth.
bulletInvolve pregnancy caused by rape or incest.
bulletVarious combinations of the above.
bulletCriminalizing all abortions including those needed to save the woman's life.
bulletThe term "pro-choice" also covers a wide range of viewpoints, ranging from:
bulletAllowing all abortions for any reason up to an including childbirth.
bulletAllowing abortions up to the point when the fetus becomes sentient -- i.e. when the higher functions of the fetal brain are activated and the fetus possesses consciousness and ability to sense its surroundings.
bulletAllowing abortions up to a specific point in pregnancy.

According to a year 2000 Gallup Poll, 50% of adults identify themselves as pro-choice; 40% as pro-life. However this poll uses the subjects' own definition of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" which varies from individual to individual.

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Comprehensive opinion polls:

A better understanding of where the U.S. and Canadian public stands on abortion can be found from those extremely rare polls which ask subjects multiple questions.

One example is the General Social Survey (GSS). Over the interval from 1972 to 2002, they posed a number of situations to a random sampling of American adults. The Survey continues to be taken on even-numbered years. They described instanced in which a pregnant women might seek an abortion, and asked the subjects whether she should be able to get one. There was a notable rise in the public's approval of abortion between 1972 and 1973 on the order of 5 percentage points; this was probably influenced by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade which legalized some abortions across America. But otherwise, there was little variation in public opinion over the interval studied. 1 The numbers of subjects was in excess of 31,000, so the margin of error is extremely low:

Some results from the 2002 survey:

The pollsters asked whether the subject thought that a pregnant woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if:

Situation Yes No Don't know,
or no answer
There is a strong chance of serious defect in the baby 703 193 28
She is married and does not want any more children 400 493 31
The woman's own health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy 825 76 23
If the family has a very low income and cannot afford any more children 396 496 32
If she became pregnant as the result of rape 721 184 19
If she is not married and does not want to marry the man 376 519 29
The woman wants it for any reason 387 513 24

In addition, they asked a question about Internet access:

Question Yes No No answer
In the past 12 months have you used the web to find out about or discuss abortion issues? 30 279 45

Unfortunately, even this survey did not ask a full range of questions, involving:

bulletThe age of the pregnant woman,
bulletThe stage of her pregnancy,
bulletSituations where:
bulletA student wants an abortion because she does not want to interrupt her education,
bulletA woman living with her parents who is afraid of being abandoned if they find out that she is pregnant.
bulletA woman who fears abandonment or adverse relationship problems if forced to have a baby.
bulletA woman is seeking her second, or third abortion.
bulletWhether she became pregnant as a result of not using birth control, or whether her contraceptive technique failed.

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  1. "Public opinion on abortion 1972 to 1993," at: http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/
  2. "1972-1994 General Social Survey Cumulative File: Abortion," at: http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu This appears to be offline as of 2006-NOV.
  3. "General Social Surveys, 1972 - 2002: Cumulative Codebook," 2003-FEB, at: http://www.cpanda.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:  It is a massive file and may take a long time to load.

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Facts > Polls > here

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Copyright © 2005 and 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2005-APR-19
Latest update: 2006-NOV-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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