New Poll: Most Pro-Choice Americans, Even Democrats, Favor Abortion Restrictions

The March for Life banner in January 2016.

More Americans identify as “pro-choice,” but they favor large restrictions on abortion and other issues often described as “pro-life,” according to a new poll released Monday. Even a majority of those who call themselves “pro-choice” and those who identify as Democrats say abortion should be restricted to the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy, limited to specific cases, or outlawed entirely.


“When we try to debate this in terms of labels, we’re really missing the underlying feelings about how people feel on this issue around the country,” Barbara L. Carvalho, director of Marist Poll, the organization which ran the survey, told reporters in a call on Monday. Beyond the trite division of Americans into “pro-life” and “pro-choice” camps, “there is a really strong consensus on the issue” of abortion.

The poll, conducted by Marist, but sponsored and funded in partnership with the Knights of Columbus (KOC), found strong support for restrictions on abortion.

According to the poll, a full 54 percent of Americans describing themselves as “pro-choice” favor “significant restrictions on abortion.” A third (33 percent) said abortion should be restricted to the first three months of pregnancy (option 1), while 16 percent said it should only be allowed in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother (option 2). Three percent said it should only be allowed to save a mother’s life (option 3), and 2 percent said abortion “should never be permitted under any circumstance” (option 4).

The numbers among Democrats are strikingly similar. A full 58 percent of those in the party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said they favor one of the four significant abortion restrictions. Nearly a quarter of Democrats (24 percent) would limit the practice to the first three months, a fifth (21 percent) would limit it to the specific cases in option 2, another 7 percent said only to save the life of the mother, while 6 percent said it should never be permitted under any circumstance.


Perhaps most surprising, however, are the attitudes among the core constituency of Democrats: women, young people, African Americans, and Hispanics.

According to Andrew T. Walther, KOC vice president of communications and strategic planning, 77 percent of women surveyed also supported laws restricting abortion to the cases described in options 1-4.

A full 69 percent of millennials also wished to restrict abortion in these ways. Nearly a quarter of young people (23 percent) said they would restrict abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, while 29 percent said it should be limited to the special cases in option 2. Eight percent stated that abortion should be limited to option 3, while 9 percent said the practice “should never be permitted under any circumstance.”

Report screenshot on the breakdown of Americans favoring restrictions on abortion. Marist Poll/Knights of Columbus

Report screenshot on the breakdown of Americans favoring restrictions on abortion. Marist Poll/Knights of Columbus

Even African Americans and Latinos also favored restricting abortion to options 1-4, as opposed to allowing it in the first six months of pregnancy or “at any time during [a woman’s] entire pregnancy.” Seventy-nine percent of Latinos and 79 percent of African-Americans backed abortion restrictions, a higher percentage than whites (71 percent).

Interestingly, the consensus against abortion is much broader than these time and circumstance restrictions.

Vast majorities of Americans also oppose “using taxpayer dollars to support abortion in other countries” (83 percent) and “using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion” 61 percent). Even substantial minorities of pro-choice Americans (40 percent), Democrats (41 percent), and Clinton supporters (39 percent) oppose taxes going to pay for a woman’s abortion.


On each of these policy issues, pro-life Americans, Republicans, and Trump supporters heavily support the pro-life cause, along with large numbers of pro-choice Americans, Democrats, and Clinton backers.

Even more fascinating, perhaps, is the breakdown on attitudes that go beyond policy. When asked about the impact of abortion on the long-term value of a woman’s life, half of Americans (50 percent) say the practice “does more harm than good,” while only 31 percent said abortion “improves a woman’s life.” While more than four in ten pro-life Americans say abortion does long-term harm, only 53 percent of pro-choice Americans say it improves a woman’s life, and 25 percent agreed that it does harm!

While 76 percent of Republicans say abortion does more harm than good, nearly a third of Democrats (32 percent) agree with them, as do nearly half of Independents (48 percent). Even 30 percent of Clinton supporters agreed with the vast majority of Trump supporters (74 percent) who said abortion harms a woman long term. Most Americans also considered abortion harmful, whatever their race. 55 percent of African Americans said so, along with 52 percent of Latinos, and 50 percent of whites.

Nearly six in ten Americans (59 percent) also say that limiting abortion is an “immediate priority” or “important.” This includes 44 percent of pro-choice Americans, 47 percent of Democrats, and 43 percent of Clinton supporters! Naturally, even more pro-life Americans (80 percent), Republicans (78 percent), and Trump supporters (77 percent) said limiting abortion is important or an immediate priority.


Despite the divide between pro-life and pro-choice issues, most Americans (59 percent) say abortion is morally wrong, while only 39 percent describe it as morally acceptable.

Finally, most Americans support conscience protections for doctors and businesses when it comes to performing or covering insurance for abortion.

When asked if “doctors, nurses, or organizations who have moral objections to abortion should or should not be legally required to perform or provide insurance coverage for abortions,” a full 60 percent said these people should not be legally required to support abortion, while 35 percent said they should be required to do so by law. African Americans (50 percent), Latinos (59 percent), and whites (64 percent) all backed these legal conscience protections on abortion.

Most Americans (59 percent) also said government should not require all businesses and their insurers — even those who have religious or moral objections — to cover the cost of abortion as part of their health services for women.

This poll is highly scientific, and used a very large sample of respondents. Marist called 2,729 Americans, using in depth landline (40 percent) and cell phone (60 percent) interviews. The respondents were given the option to take the survey in English or Spanish. The overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, while the margin of error increases for sub-groups.

When thousands of Americans march from the National Mall to the Supreme Court building this Friday as part of the March for Life, they will represent the attitudes and beliefs of a majority of Americans, not just those who identify as “pro-life.” When it comes to abortion restrictions, moral attitudes about abortion, conscience protections for those who disagree, and whether abortion does more harm than good, Americans are much more unanimous than other polls would lead you to believe.



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