A month ago, a poll from National Journal showed that Americans generally supported bans on abortion after the 20-week gestation mark, including half of all women. Results from two of the most recent national polls published today corroborate that finding. First, the ABC/Washington Post poll shows that overall majority support for abortion has barely budged over the 18-year series, but that 2-1 majority supports laws banning late-term abortions at 20 weeks — even when given an option to make it 24 weeks:
At the same time, reflecting underlying unease with abortion, more say it should be legal without limitation only up to 20 weeks (as in some recent state laws), as opposed to about 24 weeks, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Roe v. Wade case; the division is 56-27 percent (an additional 8 percent volunteer that it should never be legal).
Supporters of legal abortion divide fairly closely on the 20- vs. 24-week issue, with 49 percent supporting the former and 42 percent favoring the latter. On the other hand, not surprisingly, preference for the shorter option rises to 69 percent among those who oppose legal abortion, with an additional 18 percent of them saying the procedure never should be legal.
Is this evidence of a “war on women”? Not exactly. A majority of women surveyed supported a ban at 24 weeks, but an even larger majority supported a ban at 20 weeks:
In another example of the complexity of views on abortion, while similar numbers of men and women support legal abortion, women are more likely than men to oppose state laws restricting clinics (58 vs. 50 percent), but also are more apt to prefer a 20- to a 24-week unrestricted rule (60 vs. 53 percent).
The latest NBC/WSJ poll didn’t find majorities supporting a ban after 20 weeks, but it did find a plurarity:
As Republican-led legislatures have worked to restrict abortion in many states, a plurality of Americans say they support efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks, assuming the mother’s life isn’t in immediate danger, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Forty-four percent of respondents said they support banning abortions taking place 20 weeks or more after fertilization, while 37 percent oppose it. Twelve states have passed laws restricting abortions after that time, most recently in Texas after a high-profile debate. That battle featured a lengthy filibuster by Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis who attracted national attention for her efforts but did not stop the eventual passage of the law.
Even nearly one in five who call themselves abortion rights supporters are in favor of a ban after 20 weeks.
“Some commentators have used the 20-week ban debate as an example of cultural overreach,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart . “Instead, with a robust argument on both sides, we find a plurality of American supporting a late-term abortion ban.”
Once again, women lead the pro-life sentiment in relation to late-term abortions:
The Journal/NBC poll showed a complexity of views on the bans. More women than men supported the state bans, 46% to 40%. Even college-educated women, a group that strongly supports abortion rights, tipped toward favoring the 20-week restrictions. Among that group, 62% said abortion should be legal, but only 40% opposed the 20-week bans, compared with 44% who backed a ban at 20 weeks.
While the WaPo/ABC poll found a majority in support of overall abortion rights, though, the NBC/WSJ found a virtually even split at 49/48 in favor. It also found an intensity gap that favors the pro-life cause:
There is a striking divide when it comes to intensity. Among those who believe abortion legislation should be a high priority for state and federal lawmakers, a combined 70 percent say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. And among those who think it should be a low priority, 65 percent say it should be legal either always or most of the time.
If I had to wager a guess, I’d say the intensity gap has developed over the increasing clarity of what abortion is and does. The Gosnell trial made that much more clear, for instance, and the increasing awareness of the science of human life has eroded the whole “clump of cells” fantasy rationalization that allowed people to turn a blind eye to the practice.