A majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But the story is more complicated in the states where the future of abortion policy is likely to be decided if — as is now expected — the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
In the states poised to put in new restrictions on abortion, people tend to say that abortion should be mostly or fully illegal, based on a New York Times analysis of large national surveys taken over the last decade.
In the 13 states that have enacted so-called trigger laws, which would immediately or very quickly outlaw abortion if Roe were overturned, 43 percent of adults on average say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 52 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases.
Voters are more divided in the dozen or so states that have pre-Roe bans on the books or that are expected to enact new abortion restrictions if Roe is overturned. In those states — where the fight over abortion is most likely to play out in campaigns or state legislative chambers — an average of 49 percent of adults say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared with 45 percent who say otherwise.
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That is still somewhat less than the national average of 54 percent who mostly or fully support legalized abortion, compared with 41 percent who mostly or fully oppose it.
The geographic pattern evident in the results suggests that a national outcry over a court decision to overturn Roe might not carry many political consequences in the states where abortions could be immediately restricted. In some of those states, new abortion restrictions may tend to reinforce the political status quo, even as they spark outrage elsewhere in the country.
But in some states, a fight over new abortion restrictions might pose serious political risks for conservatives, perhaps especially in the seven mostly Republican-controlled states that are seen as most likely to enact new restrictions even though a majority of voters tend to support legal abortion.
The public’s views on abortion are notoriously hard to measure, with large segments of the public often seeming to offer muddled or inconsistent answers. Polls consistently show that around two-thirds of Americans support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and oppose overturning it. Yet just as many Americans say they support banning abortion in the second trimester, a step barred by Roe. And a more modest majority — usually around 55 percent in broader sets of data — supports legal abortion in most or all cases, while people split almost evenly over whether they consider themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”
The poll question used here — whether the respondent believes abortion should be legal in most or all cases, or illegal in all or most cases — offers only a general sense of a voter’s attitudes on the issue. It may not align exactly with whether a voter or a state electorate would support any particular restriction.
Voters who support abortion in “most” cases might accept a ban on abortions after the first trimester, like the one recently enacted in Florida, which would be at odds with Roe v. Wade but affect only about 8 percent of abortions. Conversely, voters who believe abortion should be illegal in most cases might still support allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest — or perhaps even without conditions in the first trimester.
The opponents of Roe have long said they wanted to leave the issue to the voters of each state, and the data suggests that abortion restrictions may cut very differently across the dozen or so states where the issue is likeliest to be in play in the months ahead.
In Texas, which has put into action the most stringent abortion restrictions so far, there are few signs of a fundamental transformation of the state’s politics.
Texans roughly split on abortion overall, making abortion rights more popular there than in the typical state with a trigger law. But abortion was almost a nonissue in the state’s primary in March, with candidates staying focused on the pandemic and immigration. Only 39 percent of Texans said the state’s abortion laws should be “less strict” in a poll in February, several months after the passage of the law, which effectively bans abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion-rights advocates might be on more favorable political terrain in the more traditionally competitive Midwestern states. A modest majority of voters say abortion should be mostly legal in states like Ohio, Michigan and Iowa, where evangelical Christians represent a far smaller share of voters than in the South. The figures are similar in other battleground states, like Arizona and Florida.
It’s unclear if the abortion issue will be enough to redraw the political map. Perhaps it will fade, as it seems to have in Texas. But the stakes are not small for Republicans in this region: The predominantly white working-class voters who swung from Barack Obama to Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential election tended to back abortion rights.
In a postelection study, 58 percent of voters who flipped from Mr. Obama to Mr. Trump in 2016 said that they would support a law that would “always allow a woman to obtain an abortion as a matter of choice.”