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Americans Still Oppose Overturning Roe v. Wade

Americans Still Oppose Overturning Roe v. Wade

Story Highlights

  • Nearly six in 10 Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned
  • Republicans are closely split on reversing the landmark decision
  • Bans on early-term abortions fall short of U.S. public support

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup's latest update on U.S. abortion attitudes finds 58% of Americans opposed to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, while 32% are in favor. Since 1989, between 52% and 66% of U.S. adults have wanted to maintain the landmark abortion decision. Today's support roughly matches the average over that three-decade period.

Line graph. Trend from 1989 to 2021 in the percentage of Americans who would like to see the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade abortion decision and the percentage who would oppose such an action. Opposition to overturning the decision has ranged from a low of 52% (in 2008) to a high of 66% (in 2006). It has been at or near 60% since 2018, including 58% in the latest reading.

The high court recently announced it will take up a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, throwing into question the future of Roe as the standard for reviewing abortion bans. Roe specifies that states may regulate abortion before fetal viability in the interests of maternal health, but not ban the procedure before that developmental stage. Roe established a guideline of 24 to 28 weeks for fetal viability.

Several other Republican-led states have passed restrictions on abortion designed to test the Supreme Court's support for Roe, should those laws ever reach the high court, as the Mississippi law has. Gallup tested three of these in the May 3-18 poll.

The new poll can't evaluate state residents' support for their own state's abortion laws. However, consistent with their opposition to overturning Roe, majorities of Americans overall oppose two specific prohibitions on abortion at early stages of fetal development.

  • Fifty-six percent are opposed to banning abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy, a threshold used in laws passed in two states (Arkansas and Utah), although both laws are currently blocked by court orders.

  • Fifty-eight percent oppose banning abortions once the heartbeat of a fetus can be detected -- an abortion restriction passed in several Republican-led states, all of which face court challenges. A fetal heartbeat can typically be detected between six and eight weeks into a pregnancy. While that time frame wasn't specified in the latest Gallup measure, it was in a 2019 question, with similar results.

Additionally, the poll finds a majority of Americans -- 57% -- opposed to generally banning abortion if performed because the fetus is found to have a genetic disease or disorder. Arizona's governor recently signed such a bill into law, outlawing abortions conducted exclusively because of nonlethal genetic conditions such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis.

Americans' Support for Restrictions on Abortion Based on Fetal Development
Do you favor or oppose each of the following restrictions on abortion?
Favor Oppose No
% % %
A ban on abortions after the 18th week of a pregnancy 41 56 3
A ban on abortions after a heartbeat can be detected
in the fetus
38 58 4
A ban on abortions that are done if a fetus is found to
have a genetic disease or disorder
38 57 4
Results based on Form B half sample
Gallup, May 3-18, 2021

Previous Gallup polling on this topic found significant variation in support for abortion rights, depending on the type of disorder the child might be born with, as well as when those abortions would occur. At their most supportive, two-thirds of Americans favored abortion being legal in the first trimester when the child would be born with a life-threatening illness. The majority also favored legal abortion in first trimesters when the child would be born mentally disabled. Just shy of half (49%) favored abortion at this stage if the child would have Down syndrome. Support drops significantly for abortion in all three scenarios if each were to occur in the third trimester.

Gallup's broader question on the legality of abortion, updated in the latest poll, finds a third of Americans (32%) believing abortion should be legal in all circumstances and 48% favoring it being legal in certain circumstances, while 19% say it should be illegal in all circumstances.

Opposition to Early Abortion Bans Is Widespread

Public support for the specific abortion restrictions tested in the latest poll falls well short of majority level among most demographic subgroups across society, including by gender, age and race.

Support varies more substantially by political party, with Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) much more supportive of all three bans than Democrats and Democratic leaners. Even among Republicans, however, little more than half are in favor of prohibiting abortion after the 18th week (57%) or after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (54%). Just shy of half of Republicans (49%) would like to see laws banning abortion in the case of genetic disorders, while 48% would not.

On the question of Roe v. Wade, 46% of Republicans favor overturning it, while 43% are opposed.

Americans' Support for Abortion Law Changes, by Key Demographics
Roe v. Wade
Ban after 18th week Ban after fetal
heartbeat detected
Ban for genetic disorders
% % % %
U.S. adults 32 41 38 38
Men 30 37 39 38
Women 34 46 37 39
18 to 34 37 37 33 31
35 to 54 30 45 37 37
55 and older 32 41 41 46
White Americans 30 45 38 39
Non-White Americans 37 33 38 37
Party ID with leaners
Republicans/Lean Rep. 46 57 54 49
Democrats/Lean Dem. 21 28 25 30
Gallup, May 3-18, 2021

Naturally, support for overturning Roe v. Wade and for laws banning abortion in certain situations varies by whether respondents self-identify as "pro-choice" or "pro-life" in their abortion views. However, the correlations are by no means absolute.

Segments of pro-choice Americans support overturning Roe (16%) and implementing bans on abortions conducted after the 18th week (30%), after a fetal heartbeat is detected (21%) or in the case of genetic disorders (30%). Similarly, barely half of self-identified pro-life Americans favor some of these policies, while between 38% and 49% oppose them.

Americans' Support for Abortion Law Changes, by Position on Abortion
"Pro-choice" "Pro-life"
% %
Overturn Roe v. Wade
Favor 16 51
Oppose 77 38
Ban after 18th week of pregnancy
Favor 30 53
Oppose 67 46
Ban after fetal heartbeat detected
Favor 21 55
Oppose 76 43
Ban for genetic disorders
Favor 30 47
Oppose 66 49
Americans' abortion views based on respondents' answer to whether they consider themselves "pro-choice" or "pro-life" on abortion.
Gallup, May 3-18, 2021

Bottom Line

"Overturning Roe v. Wade" is a shorthand way of saying the Supreme Court could decide abortion is not a constitutional right after all, thus giving control of abortion laws back to the states. This does not sit well with a majority of Americans or even a large subset of Republicans. Not only do Americans oppose overturning Roe in principle, but they oppose laws limiting abortion in early stages of pregnancy that would have the same practical effect.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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