WASHINGTON — U.S. Catholic voters are split on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but a majority agrees that abortion should be restricted and that there should be at least some protections for the unborn child in the womb, according to a new EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll.
The court’s June 24 ruling in the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upended 49 years of nationwide legalized abortion and freed states to regulate abortion as they see fit.
When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with Roe being overturned, 46.2% agreed, 47.8% disagreed, and 6% said they weren’t sure.
Catholic voters were similarly split on whether they are more or less likely to support a candidate who agrees with Roe’s dismantling: 42% said they were more likely, 41.9% said they were less likely, and 16.1% were unsure.
At the same time, the poll results point to apparent inconsistencies in Catholic voters’ positions on abortion.
While nearly half of Catholic voters in the poll said they disagreed with Roe being overturned, a large majority (86.5%) said they support some kind of limit on abortion, even though Roe and related abortion cases allowed only narrow regulation at the state level. The breakdown is as follows:
26.8% said abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother; 19.8% said abortion should be allowed until 15 weeks when the baby can feel pain; 13.1% said that abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy; 9.9% said that abortion should be allowed only until a heartbeat can be detected, and 9.1% said that abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the mother.
Of special note for Catholic pro-life leaders, only a small minority of Catholic voters — 7.8% — were aligned with the clear and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church that abortion should never be allowed.
On the other end of the spectrum of abortion views, 13.4% of Catholic voters said that abortion should be available to a woman at any time during her pregnancy.
The poll, conducted by the Trafalgar Group from Sept. 12–19, surveyed 1,581 Catholic voters and has a margin of error of 2.5%. The questionnaire was administered using a mix of six different methods, including phone calls, text messages, and email.
The poll’s results echo surveys of the general U.S. population on abortion. A Pew Research Center survey from March found that 19% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all cases, while 8% said it should be illegal in all cases. More recent Gallup data from May found that 35% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal under any circumstances while 13% said it should be illegal in all circumstances.
The Pew Research Center data also looked at Catholic adults. Thirteen percent said abortion should be legal in all cases, while 10% said it should be illegal in all cases.
A previous EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll released in July found that 9% of Catholic likely voters said abortion should never be permitted and 18% said that abortion should be available at any time. The poll similarly showed that a majority of Catholic voters (82%) support some kind of restriction on abortion.
Confused About What Roe Said?
The poll’s results came as little surprise to Catholic pro-life public policy experts such as Elizabeth R. Kirk.
“This study confirms a phenomenon we have known for some time, i.e., that there is an enormous disconnect between the scope of abortion practices permitted by the Roe regime and what abortion practices Americans actually support,” Kirk, director of the Center for Law and the Human Person at The Catholic University of America, told CNA.
Kirk, who also serves as a faculty fellow for the Institute for Human Ecology and research associate and lecturer at the Columbus School of Law, noted the finding that nearly 42% of Catholic voters said they are less likely to support a candidate who agrees with Roe being overturned.
“At first glance that suggests that many Catholic voters wanted to keep Roe in place,” she said. “Yet, the study also reveals that 86.5% of Catholic voters want some type of restriction on abortion access.”
Why the inconsistency? “Most people do not realize that Roe allowed states to permit unlimited abortion access throughout the entire pregnancy and made it difficult, or even impossible, to enact commonsense restrictions supported by the majority of Americans,” Kirk observed.
“Many people who ‘support Roe’ actually disagree, unknowingly, with what it permitted,” she added. “All Dobbs has done is return abortion policy to the legislative process so that the people may enact laws which reflect the public consensus.”
Mass-Goers More Strongly Pro-Life
The new poll, the second of three surveys of Catholic voters tied to the midterm elections on Nov. 8, shows that the opinions of Catholic voters on abortion and other issues vary depending on how often respondents attend Mass.
Only a small portion of those who attend Mass at least once a week said that abortion should be allowed at any time: 0% of those who attend Mass daily, 1% who attend more than once a week, and 8% of those who attend weekly support abortion without restrictions. In contrast, 57.5% of Catholic voters who attend Mass daily, 21.5% of those who attend more than once a week, and 15.6% of those who attend weekly say abortion should never be permitted.
In addition to respondents’ apparent confusion about what Roe stipulated, the poll suggests that many Catholic voters don’t fully understand what their Church teaches about abortion.
Less than one-third of Catholic voters who said they accept all Church teachings (31.1%) said that abortion should never be permitted, and 5% who profess to fully accept the Church’s teachings said abortion should be permitted at any time.
Overall, 32.8% of respondents reported attending Mass at least once a week, with another 30.7% attending once a year or less. Only 15% agreed that they accept all of the Church’s teachings and live their lives accordingly, with another 34.5% saying they generally accept most of the Church’s teachings and try to live accordingly.
Pew Research Center also looked at how Mass attendance factors into Catholics’ views on abortion. Among those who attend Mass at least once a week: 4% said abortion should be legal in all cases, and 24% said it should be illegal in all cases, Pew found.
Strong Support for Pregnancy Centers
The poll asked Catholic voters about a variety of other topics including abortion limits, Holy Communion for pro-abortion politicians, conscience protections for health care workers, and pro-life pregnancy centers.
Among the Findings:
Catholic voters are prioritizing other issues above abortion. Only 10.1% of Catholic voters identified abortion as the most important issue facing the nation, falling behind inflation (34.2%) and the economy/jobs (19.7%) and tying with immigration. At the same time, a higher percentage of Catholic voters chose abortion than crime (8.7%), climate change (8.1% ), health care (6.8%), K–12 education (1.7%), or religious freedom (0.8%).
About half of Catholic voters (49.3%) disagreed that Catholic political leaders who support abortion publicly and promote policies that increase abortion access should refrain from taking Communion, while 36.7% said they should refrain.
A majority (67.4%) of Catholic voters said they support public funding for pro-life pregnancy centers that offer pregnant women life-affirming alternatives to abortion, while 18.3% said they did not favor using tax dollars for this purpose.
A comparable majority (61.8%) said that political and church leaders should be speaking out against the recent attacks and acts of vandalism on pregnancy resource centers.
When asked about conscience protections for health care workers that would allow them to opt out of providing “services” such as abortion, a majority of Catholic voters (60.7%) said that health care workers should not be obligated to engage in procedures that they object to based on moral or religious grounds. Conversely, 25.3% said that health care workers should be obligated to engage in procedures that they object to based on moral or religious grounds.
Work to be Done
What is the takeaway from the latest poll, where abortion is concerned?
“This polling shows that Catholics, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, support commonsense protections for women and the unborn,” Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, told CNA.
“It also affirms other recent polling that found Americans by strong numbers support the work of pregnancy resource centers in providing women facing crisis pregnancies with a real choice and the chance to thrive as mothers despite difficult circumstances,” she noted.
At the same time, McGuire added, “This new polling is also a reminder that more work needs to be done in catechizing Catholics on foundational Church teaching in support of vulnerable life in all stages — an effort that is continually undermined by Catholic politicians in the highest echelons of power who use their platforms to advocate for extreme abortion policies in direct violation of Church teaching.”
Nearly all of those surveyed (99.2%) said they plan to vote in the midterm elections on Nov. 8.