Jul 5, 2023 - Podcasts

How Americans are feeling about abortion

We've just passed the one year mark of the U.S. living in a post-Roe world, and 69% of Americans say abortion should be generally legal in the first three months of pregnancy, a record high according to Gallup.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, July 5th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: how climate change is affecting summer travel plans. Plus, the wet bulb temperature, explained.

But first, how Americans feel about abortion today. That’s our One Big Thing.

NIALA: We've just passed the one year mark of the U.S. living in a post-Roe world — and a record high, 69% of Americans, say abortion should be generally legal in the first three months of pregnancy. That's according to Gallup, and it's up 2% from last year, right after the draft of the Supreme Court document to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision was leaked.

Since then, the count of states with full abortion bans has climbed to 14. More than two dozen states allow for legal abortion.

Lydia Saad, Gallup's director of U.S. Social Research, explained this for us back then and she's here now with their latest research.

Lydia, we know that Americans' feelings on abortion tend to be complicated, but can we start with what this record high support for abortion means exactly?

LYDIA SAAD: Sure. So you talked about our measure of public support for abortion in the first trimester. We do break it down by trimester as one of our several measures and essentially both measures since Dobbs was leaked last year have been much higher than anything we saw historically. So it was 69% this year who said they think abortion should generally be legal in the first trimester, it was 67% last year. But in our pre-Dobbs measure in 2018, it was 60%, and it had never been higher than that up until that point. So we've now seen basically a nine point increase in support for first trimester abortions, post-Dobbs.

And not so much the Dobbs decision, but the Dobbs leak. We saw a lot of our measures change immediately. When I say immediately, we measure these things annually, so between 2021 and 2022, we saw some shifts that were outside the norm of shifts that we normally see on abortion, which has been very stable for two and a half decades.

NIALA: Historically, what has been the sentiment around this?

LYDIA: Because Gallup first started asking about public opinion on abortion post Roe v. Wade and Roe v. Wade set up this trimester framework for when states could and could not restrict abortion, that's how we asked about it. So we said, should abortion be illegal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances? So that was one very broad measure and on that basis we found historically, relatively few saying it should be legal under all circumstances. Even fewer saying it should be illegal in all circumstances, with the majority, slight majority, typically saying it should be legal only under certain circumstances.

And so, for the next five decades, we've been kind of probing, well, what are those circumstances? Is it time period of pregnancy by trimester? Is it reasons for the abortion? Is it age of the woman? People feel very nuanced about it, but firm in those nuances. There have been events historically that have moved the needle one way or the other. I think we saw in the ‘90s, late ‘80s that the abortion clinic bombings made people more sympathetic toward legality. The whole debate over third trimester abortions featuring the partial birth abortion, specifically procedure, later in the nineties, reframed the debate and made that more sympathetic. But now Dobbs is again, another event that has reshaped how people are looking at these labels. What does it mean to be pro-choice or pro-life? And how defensive people feel about abortion rights.

In a moment, more on American attitudes towards abortion.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

We’re talking with Gallup's Director of U.S. Social Research Lydia Saad about the country’s feelings around abortion — more than one year after Roe V. Wade was overturned.

Lydia, so much of the language that we hear around this, particularly from anti-abortion activists, is that abortion is morally wrong. Where do Americans stand on that today?

LYDIA: Historically people have been more likely to say abortion is not morally acceptable than they were to say it should be illegal. But, in 2022, post-Dobbs for the first time, we saw 52% saying abortion is morally acceptable. Um, good five points higher than it had ever been, and it continues to hold at 52% today. So that's not a big shift, but it is a remarkable shift because we've gone two decades measuring that with the public, either closely divided or leaning against the morality of abortion, and now it's gone the other side.

I think we may be entering a new period when Dobbs was like a trip wire. Up until Dobbs, people on both sides could tolerate the way Roe set things up. So as long as abortion was legal in the first trimester, pro-choice Americans, the average pro-choice American could tolerate restrictions in the second and third trimester. And, as long as the pro-life side was winning these battles on the second and third trimester, they could tolerate abortion being legal in the first trimester. But now that you have Dobbs, that allows for this breach of first trimester abortion rights, it's just a bridge way too far for the pro-choice side. And it has redefined what it means to be pro-choice. It doesn't now just mean expanding women's rights. It means just defending them altogether. And we'll see where it goes, but right now I think that the Dobbs decision has fundamentally changed the debate.

NIALA: Lydia Saad is Gallup's Director of U.S. Social Research. Thanks Lydia.

LYDIA: Thank you.

NIALA: The summer travel season has been off to a rough start with weather issues, staffing shortages and high numbers of travelers straining the airline industry. But people are also changing where they’re traveling... Axios’ Erica Pandey has more – Erica, you’ve been reporting that travelers are actually rethinking their summer travel because of climate change? ERICA PANDEY: That's right Niala. So one really palpable effective climate change people are dealing with right now is it complicating summer plans. So at a very basic level, we're seeing extreme heat and wildfire smoke ground planes and delayed travel. And a step beyond that, a lot of the really popular summer destinations in Europe think Italy, Greece, south of France are getting too hot to travel to this time of year. They're having heat waves, they're seeing their own wildfires. And so travel agents are saying people are diverting their July travel to places like Stockholm or Copenhagen or Amsterdam that are cooler and peak season for these other places like Italy and Greece are now earlier in the spring or later in the fall. And even more locally, some of the coastal towns that are super popular in the summer in New Jersey or Florida are experiencing what scientists call sunny day flooding, which is flooding that comes not as a result of storms, but just high seas. So those places are becoming dicier in the summer as well. And then a sort of more grave consequence of this is a lot of the natural wonders of our world that people travel across oceans and countries to visit have been really severely altered by our warming planet. One example that comes to mind right away — Glacier National Park in Montana, the glaciers have lost more than 80% of their size in the last 50 years according to CNN. So that's a really drastic difference of experience when you go to that place. The other side of this is that the warming climate has made some places that were previously too cold to visit now a little more accessible. One example is Greenland, which is now building new airports because it's expecting an influx of more visitors as temperatures get warmer.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Erica Pandey.

NIALA: And, to end on one final weather and climate change related note: you may have seen that some states – like Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi – are all under threat of extreme wet bulb temperatures this summer.

Wet bulb temperature is meant to mirror how humans sweat to keep cool – it’s the temperature measured by a thermometer covered in a wet cloth. As water evaporates from the cloth, evaporation cools the thermometer.

There’s a point at which it’s so hot that sweat can’t evaporate and cool us - if you’ve ever been in sticky humidity - you might have some sense of that feeling.

That’s what wet bulb temperature measures. Because if we can’t cool off our own body heat - fatalities or serious health effects can occur.

One study estimated that an 88 degree day with 100 percent humidity is probably as hot as most humans can handle and still keep a healthy core body temperature.

The National Weather Service says the measure is most useful for active, acclimatized people such as outdoor workers, athletes, and anyone else performing strenuous outdoor activities.

Experts say bringing down greenhouse gas emissions is one way to combat these dangerous temperatures, but another is making sure there’s proper infrastructure to help people who can't afford to cool down with air conditioning at home.

NOAA has started maintaining a map that forecasts wet bulb temperature readings especially for outdoor workers. We’ll include a link in our show notes.

That’s it for us today! You can always get in touch by texting me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and cool and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper