Fact Check: Abortion Industry Claims ‘Majority of Americans Support Roe v. Wade’

A pro-life activist holds a model fetus during a demonstration in front of the U.S. Suprem
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CLAIM: Planned Parenthood and its allies frequently make the claim that a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and, thus, abortion.

VERDICT: FALSE. The wording of most polling questions fails to tap what Americans really think about abortion.

Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson has once again repeated the claim of abortion rights supporters that “the majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade.”

In an interview published Monday at Vogue, Johnson expressed fear over President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, especially given that, if confirmed, she would take the seat vacated by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Johnson cited an August 2019 Pew Research poll that led with a finding that 61 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all (27 percent) or most (38 percent) cases.

Pew said its survey found little support for overturning Roe v. Wade, with 70 percent saying they do not want to see Roe completely overturned.

The relevant questions asked of respondents were the following:

Do you think abortion should be: Legal in all cases; Legal in most cases; Illegal in most cases; Illegal in all cases; Legal in all/most cases; Illegal in all/most cases?

In 1973 the Roe versus Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?

The choices given to respondents were:

Yes, overturn Roe versus Wade
No, do not overturn Roe versus Wade

Washington Examiner Senior Columnist Timothy Carney further observed that, on the morning of Barrett’s confirmation hearing, ABC News/Washington Post released their poll claiming 62 percent of registered voters say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade.

ABC asked respondents the following question:

As you may know, abortion law in the United States is based on the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v. Wade. Do you think the Supreme Court should (uphold) Roe v. Wade or (overturn) it?”

Carney noted the problem is that, “like many others that try to prove America supports Roe,” it “doesn’t tell us what people really think about abortion law and jurisprudence — and thus whether people really would want Roe overturned.”

He said these types of polling questions are “fundamentally flawed to the point of being almost worthless,” considering that most people surveyed are not aware of the consequences of Roe and what would happen if it were overturned.

“If you asked about the effects of Roe, you’d find the ruling less popular, and if you asked about the effects of overturning Roe, you’d find overturning it more popular,” he wrote.

Similarly, in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released in June 2019, results were claimed as having found “record high majority” support for abortion in America.

That poll asked a question of respondents that provided these four options:

Which comes closest to your view on abortion: Abortion should always be legal, should be legal most of the time, should be made illegal except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life, or abortion should be made illegal without any exceptions?

According to that survey’s results, 34 percent of those polled said abortion should always be legal, 22 percent said it should be legal most of the time, 29 percent said the procedure should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life, and 12 percent said it should be illegal without exceptions. Among the respondents, three percent said they were “not sure.”

NBC News said the 34 percent of Americans that want abortion to always be legal “represents an all-time high in the poll, a three-point climb from the 31 percent who held that view in March of 2018 and a nine-point jump from the 25 percent that held that view in 2008.”

NBC also said its poll shows “solid growth in the number of Americans who say the procedure should be legal or legal most of the time.”

Others who conduct and analyze abortion polls affirm that failing to provide more nuances or specifics in questions about terminating pregnancy to survey respondents often leads to a misread on the true views of Americans.

Maureen Ferguson, senior fellow at the Catholic Association, observed to Breitbart News the limitations of the WSJ/NBC poll, given that respondents were restricted to a list of four broad options.

“Polls that ask about specific policies or stages in pregnancy are able to capture far more of the nuance that characterizes the average person’s views on abortion,” Ferguson said.

She noted that when a Marist poll asked respondents about limiting abortion depending on specific stages of fetal development, “they found that 60% of Americans identifying as pro-choice would limit abortion to – at most – the first three months of pregnancy.”

Ferguson noted as well that, with electing to end a pregnancy being legal in the United States through all nine months of pregnancy – “because of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton’s expansive definition of ‘health’” of the mother, the WSJ/NBC poll found “only 34% of people line up in support of legal abortion in all cases.”

“In fact, a large majority, 63%, do not support today’s status quo under Roe v. Wade, and want more restrictions on abortion,” she concluded.

The Marist poll that was released in January 2019, found 75 percent said the procedure should be limited to — at most — the first three months of pregnancy. Among those who identified as Republicans, 92 percent wanted that restriction, as did 78 percent of independents and 60 percent of Democrats. Perhaps most significantly, that view was shared by 61 percent of those who identified as “pro-choice.”

The Marist survey also found 65 percent of Americans said if the Supreme Court revisits Roe v. Wade, it should either return the issue of the legality of abortion to the states (49 percent) or outlaw the procedure altogether (16 percent). Only 30 percent of those surveyed would prefer that the Supreme Court rule in favor of unrestricted abortion.

Carney points to the YouGov/Washington Examiner poll released October 7 that surveyed 1,200 registered voters with the question:

Should individual states be free to regulate abortion as they see fit (such as on safety standards or with bans on abortion after a certain point of pregnancy) or should federal court be able to strike down state rules?

According to that poll, Americans are evenly split on whether federal courts should have final say over state abortion laws. Results found 42 percent said states should be free to regulate abortion as they see fit, while 43 percent said federal courts should have final say over states on the issue. Additionally, 15 percent of registered voters said they “don’t know.”

Carney observed Independents (47-36 percent) and Republicans (50-37 percent) were much more likely to approve of state regulation of abortion. Democrat respondents, however, favored federal courts striking down state abortion bans, 51-33 percent.

Polls that claim most people support Roe are “not true,” Carney asserted.

“So why would two-thirds seem to side with Roe in this ABC News poll?” he asked. “Probably because most people don’t understand how radical Roe was, or what overturning it would do … Most people probably believe that abortion would instantly be outlawed in all cases across the country if Roe were overturned.”


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