Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Believe Abortion Should Be Illegal After First Trimester

According to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 65% of Americans said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases in the second trimester.

Organizers and a limited number of participants march in the 48th-annual March for Life in Washington on Jan. 29, in a scaled-down event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizers and a limited number of participants march in the 48th-annual March for Life in Washington on Jan. 29, in a scaled-down event due to the coronavirus pandemic. (photo: Claudette Jerez/CNA)

A new poll suggests that a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases after the first trimester. 

According to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 65% of Americans said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases in the second trimester. And notably, only 19% of respondents said abortion in the third trimester, roughly months seven through nine of a pregnancy, should be legal in most or all cases, while 81% responded that it should be illegal in most or all cases. 

More than 6-in-10, 61%, Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester of pregnancy. 

The percentage of Americans who believe abortion should be illegal in all cases in the first trimester was 16%. Meanwhile, 35% said abortion should be illegal in all cases during the second trimester, and 54% answered that way for the third trimester. 

However, when asked about the legality of abortion overall, 56% said they believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 43% said it should be illegal in most or all cases. 

The poll drew on a random sample of 1,125 adults, with an estimated margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, told The Associated Press that the findings suggest that abortion advocates are “way out of the public mainstream” to the extent that they support legal abortion late into pregnancies.

The results come amid the Supreme Court’s consideration of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, which was signed into law in 2018 but is not currently in effect. The court is considering whether all state prohibitions on pre-viability elective abortions are unconstitutional. Oral arguments in the case are expected in the fall.

The high court in May agreed to take up the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which some legal experts have said presents the greatest chance in decades to substantially alter or reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The AP poll follows a Gallup poll released earlier this month that suggested that, for the first time in two decades of surveys, more Americans believe abortion “morally acceptable” than “morally wrong.” 

In that poll, 47% of people surveyed found abortion to be “morally acceptable,” the highest tally since the poll began in 2001. Conversely, 46% of those surveyed said that they believed abortion to be “morally wrong.” A total of 1,016 adults were randomly surveyed for that poll, and Gallup estimated the margin of error to be plus or minus four percentage points.

In the Gallup poll a total of 65% of those surveyed supported at least some restrictions on abortion; a plurality of those, 33%, said they believed abortion should be “legal in only a few” circumstances.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its most recent report on abortion in the United States, estimated that 92% of the abortions in 2018 were performed within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. 

The CDC data suggests that abortions after 21 weeks gestation make up only 1.2% of all abortions performed in the United States and are thus “extremely rare.” However, that CDC data excludes some states such as California, Illinois, New York and the District of Columbia.

Data from a prolific late-term abortion doctor in Boulder, Colorado, suggest that many abortions performed late in pregnancy, some of which are performed as late as 38 or 39 weeks, are due to conditions such as Down syndrome. 

The court said in its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that states could not ban abortion pre-viability and could only regulate it in the second trimester. In 1992, the court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states could regulate abortions pre-viability but could not pose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion.

In the state’s petition to the Supreme Court, Mississippi health officer Thomas Dobbs argued that the standard of “viability,” when an unborn child is medically determined to be able to survive outside the mother’s womb, is arbitrary.

The state of Mississippi has argued that, according to medical expertise, abortions pose greater risks to the health of the mother after 16 weeks of pregnancy, and the unborn child is capable of feeling pain after 15 weeks and possibly even before that time.

Dr. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, discusses religious freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2013.

Catholic University’s John Garvey (Sept. 25)

Catholic University of America’s president has announced he is stepping down at the end of the school year. John Garvey’s time at the university has widely been recognized as a period of strengthening Catholic identity and shoring up the academic offerings in the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition. His work has paid off: student retention has increased and fundraising goals have been topped at record levels. President John Garvey joins us today to tell his story about not only about building up a university but about falling in love with Catholic U.