Feb 25, 2019

New poll finds "dramatic shift" on abortion attitudes

President Trump mentioned abortion during the State of the Union. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The recent debate over "late-term abortion," fueled by state measures in New York and Virginia that loosened, or sought to loosen, abortion restrictions toward the end of a woman's pregnancy, has caused "a dramatic shift" in public attitudes toward abortion policy, according to Barbara Carvalho who directed a new Marist poll, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization.

By the numbers: The poll found Americans are now as likely to identify as pro-life (47%) as they are pro-choice (47%). Last month, a similar Marist survey found that Americans were more likely to identify as pro-choice than pro-life 55% to 38%, a 17-point gap.

  • The survey also found that 80% of Americans support abortion being limited to the first three months of pregnancy, an increase of 5 percentage points since last month's Marist poll.

Between the lines: Marist has been polling Americans' attitudes on abortion for over a decade, and Carvalho told Axios this is the first time since 2009 that as many or more Americans have identified as pro-life as have identified as pro-choice.

  • But what Carvalho said she found most significant was that Democrats, specifically those under the the age of 45, seem to be leading the shift: This month's poll found 34% of Democrats identify as pro-life vs. 61% pro-choice. Last month, those numbers were 20% and 75%, respectively.
  • Among Americans under 45, 47% identify as pro-life vs. 48% pro-choice. In January, those numbers were 28% and 65%, respectively.

"This has been a measure that has been so stable over time. To see that kind of change was surprising," Carvalho said. "And the increased discussion [of late-term abortion] in the public forum in the past month appears to have made the biggest difference in how people identify on the issue."

Why it matters: Republicans have been on the offensive about this issue since the State of the Union, when Trump seized on the outrage over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s abortion comments and the passage of a New York law to promote a congressional ban on late-term abortions.

  • In November, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would require insurers send customers separate bills for coverage provided for abortion services.
  • On Friday, the Trump administration issued a new rule barring organizations that provide abortion referrals, like Planned Parenthood, from receiving federal family planning money.
  • Axios health care editor Sam Baker points that by far the most significant thing Trump has done on abortion is replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh. "State abortion restrictions will very likely be upheld no matter what public opinion is."

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Methodology: This survey of 1,008 adults was conducted via landline or cell phones, Feb. 12–Feb. 17 by The Marist Poll, sponsored and funded in partnership with The Knights of Columbus.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that, among Americans under 45, 47% identify as pro-life vs. 48% as pro-choice. (An earlier version of this story stated those figures reflected Democrats under 45.)

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