June 25, 2013

As Texas considers new abortion restrictions, polls show complex debate

Abortion opponents in the Texas state legislature have been busy this week trying to pass a bill aimed at banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The proposal, which passed the House on Monday, is now facing a Democratic filibuster in the state Senate. If the Senate approves it before the end of the legislative session at midnight and Republican Gov. Rick Perry (as promised) signs it, Texas would become the 13th state in recent years to enact such a restriction.

At first glance, the trend toward more state-level limits on abortion access seems out of line with the balance of national public opinion. Pew Research Center data from 2012 surveys show that 54% of American adults want abortion to be legal in all or most cases, while 39% want abortion to be illegal in all or most cases. Also, a 2013 Pew Research survey of Americans’ views on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion in at least the first three months of pregnancy and in some cases later, found that nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) do not want Roe to be overturned, while just 29% want the decision completely overturned.

On closer inspection, the situation is more complex. It is true that the populations in most of the states that recently have enacted abortion restrictions tend to be more conservative on the issue. But it’s worth noting that some efforts to expand or protect access to abortion in states known to be more liberal on the issue have recently failed. Last week in New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to protect late-term abortion rights was shelved after it did not make it through the state Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and a few Democrats.

A careful look at aggregated data from Pew Research polling in 2011 and 2012 reveals the nuanced nature of opinion on the issue and the large amount of gray area. While a majority of Americans say they support some abortion rights, more of those say abortion should be legal in “most” cases (33%) rather than “all” (20%). On the other side of the debate, 25% say abortion should be illegal in “most” cases and 16% say it should be illegal in “all” instances. In other words, majorities of both supporters and opponents of abortion rights approve of some exceptions.

Courts have long grappled with the complex questions surrounding abortion, and the constitutionality of some of the new anti-abortion laws remains in doubt. A recent North Dakota law banning abortion in most cases when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which may occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and an Arkansas measure that would outlaw most abortions at or beyond 12 weeks are among the laws facing court challenges.

Topics: Abortion

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Bill4 years ago

    If I say I am pro choice up until fertilization and then I become pro life, does anyone understand? Why is it so difficult to understand that when fertilization happens, a new life is begun? Determining at which point that fetus can survive on its own is actually irrelevant. I know 60 year old’s that can not survive on their own.
    The point I want to make is that the decision to abort involves another life. Why would I want to give someone carte blanch authority to end a life at their whim. If a human can be too young to live, then it will not be long before they will say they want to abort the old person, they will be too old to live.

  2. FactsHurt4 years ago

    A fetus can survive after 20 weeks however and SB5 bans abortion after 20 weeks(5months).

    Do you support abortions of a baby that can survive and feels physical pain?

  3. Flobow Trust4 years ago

    As a nurse I can tell you, a fetus major organs are functioning and formed within three months of conception! You might as well go kill those pesky teenagers that drive you NUTS as to kill these babies who simply are in another room that we can’t see yet! It is a pity what America is doing with these murderous actions. Our nation is noticed by God and these acts will not go unpunished. Only when we truly turn to God and quit our murderous acts can American prosper no matter if we are Democrats or Republicans. Murder is a horrible crime against every member of our society. Until this horrible act is STOPPED we will continue to suffer as a nation.

    1. Vivian4 years ago

      I lost all respect once you mentioned God. America has never declared Christianity its official religion, therefore we should stop governing its citizens based on these irrelevant beliefs. If you don’t want to get an abortion, fine by me. But don’t place restrictions on me in the name of your God.

    2. Lydia4 years ago

      A three month old fetus cannot survive outside the womb, end of debate.
      I ask you Flo, do you actively participate in an anti war movement. You and I do agree on one thing murder is a horrible crime and it effects many members of our global society. We, as Americans, are responsible for our fair share of murder in the name of freedom.