Jun 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Abortion ruling conflicts with public opinion

A demonstrator holds a sign outside of the Supreme Court building
Abortion rights demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on June 24. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Supreme Court went against the prevailing public opinion on abortion rights when it overturned Roe v. Wade Friday.

Driving the news: After a leaked draft opinion showed the court was planning to overturn Roe, three in five Americans said abortion should be legal always or most of the time, per an NBC News poll.

  • That's the strongest support for abortion rights in NBC polling since 2003.

What they’re saying: In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito rejected the idea that the court should even consider the public’s response when determining its position on a case.

  • “We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today’s decision overruling Roe and Casey,” Alito wrote. “And even if we could foresee what will happen, we would have no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision.”
  • Alito's opinion also cited a past chief justice of the court, William Rehnquist. “The Judicial Branch derives its legitimacy, not from following public opinion, but from deciding by its best lights," Alito wrote.

Reality check: Dashing its precedents and chipping away at popular rights and laws could accelerate already sinking public opinion of the court, a trend that has accelerated in recent years.

  • The number of Americans who look favorably at the court is declining, largely due to a sharp drop in approval among Democrats, per a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this year. It found approval of the court fell 16 points, from 70% in August 2020 to 54% in January.
  • Just shy of half of respondents said they held an unfavorable view of the court.

Go deeper:

Polling shows America in the middle on abortion

Where abortion will be illegal with Roe v. Wade overturned

The latest on Roe v. Wade and abortion

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