Survey Finds U.S. Majority Favors Abortion Restrictions

The Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll found that more than 8 in 10 Americans — 83% — favor significant restrictions on abortion.


NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A new survey shows that most Americans support strict regulations on abortion, with half of Americans saying that abortion should never be permitted or permitted only in rare cases.

“After four decades of legalized abortion in this country, Americans have had ample time to understand that abortion has terrible consequences,” said Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, which commissioned the poll.

“They understand abortion’s true legacy — a child loses life, and parents lose a child. And after witnessing the effects of abortion for the past 40 years, Americans are not legally or morally comfortable with that legacy,” he said Jan. 9.

The Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted the survey of 1,246 adults in the continental U.S. from Dec. 4-6, 2012. It claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

The poll found that more than 8 in 10 Americans — 83% — favor significant restrictions on abortion.

Of that 83%, 10% of respondents said abortion should never be permitted, 12% said abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the mother, and 34% said abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

These cases make up a very small portion of abortions sought in the U.S., where abortion is generally permitted, and more than one million legal abortions take place each year.

A 2005 report published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research organization formerly associated with abortion provider Planned Parenthood, found that only 1% of women seeking abortions said they did so because the child was conceived in rape, and even fewer sought abortion because the child was conceived in incest.

The report did not record the number of women who said they sought an abortion because their lives were in danger, though 12% cited physical health problems as a motivation.

The Marist poll found some support for legal abortion. About 27% of respondents said abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy at most; 6% would limit abortion to the first six months of pregnancy, while 11% said abortion should be available at any time.

The survey found that 43% of respondents describe themselves as pro-life, while 57% say they are "pro-choice." Among Catholics, whose faith rejects abortion, only 45% say they are pro-life. About 59% of practicing Catholics say they are pro-life, compared to only 25% of non-practicing Catholics.

About 58% of Americans say abortion is morally wrong. Respondents generally rejected the idea that laws must choose whether to protect the unborn or pregnant mothers, with 84% saying that laws can protect both.

“It is time for our country to chart a new course on this issue — a course that protects both the mother and the child,” Anderson said.

Lee Miringoff of The Marist Poll said the survey’s detailed questions about respondents’ specific views on abortion allowed Marist to “go beyond” pro-life and pro-choice labels to achieve “a more complete picture of what Americans actually think about this issue.”

The wide support for pro-life issues has drawn media attention.

A Jan. 14 Time magazine cover story contended that pro-life advocates are winning. It cited pro-life legislative successes, changes in public opinion and a decline in the numbers of abortion facilities and abortionists who perform abortions.

More information on the Marist poll results is available here at the Knights of Columbus website.