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What the polls say about Americans, abortion, and the Supreme Court

While a majority of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned in its entirety, most believe abortion should only be legal under certain circumstances.

Supporters of the pro-choice movement rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Supporters of the pro-abortion rights movement rally in front of the US Supreme Court building in 2010.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Whoever President Donald Trump picks for the opening on the Supreme Court, the choice will have big implications for abortion in America.

A new conservative justice likely won’t lead the court to immediately strike down Roe v. Wade. Rather, legal experts anticipate abortion rights will be federally weakened in “incremental” steps — although it’s also possible that the court could revisit the issue more directly because several cases dealing with state abortion laws are already pending in federal court.

In the meantime, how Trump’s nominee might vote on Roe v. Wade is likely to be a big issue in the Senate confirmation fight. It’s an especially potent issue because the right to abortion, at least under certain circumstances, gets broad support from the American public.

Polls by Kaiser, Pew, Reuters, Politico, and Gallup found that an overwhelming majority of Americans think that access to abortion — at the least under certain circumstances — should not be outlawed.

A Kaiser Family Fund Health Tracking Poll found that in the days following Kennedy’s announcement, two-thirds of the American public said they do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. That includes majorities of both men and women — 65 percent and 68 percent, respectively. The figure was even higher for women ages 18-44.

67% of Americans overall believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. KFF Health Tracking Poll

KFF’s findings nearly match that of a Pew poll from December 2016. Pew found that just a month before Donald Trump began serving as the 45th president of the United States, 69 percent of Americans agreed that Roe v. Wade should not be “completely overturned.”

A pew poll found that 69% of the American public does not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Pew Research Center

Pew found that 53 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats agreed that Roe v. Wade should not be “completely overturned” at the end of 2016.

Pew also found that Democrats are increasingly supportive of Roe over time, while Republican support has virtually held steady.

84% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans believed that Roe v. Wade should not be completely overturned in December of 2016. Pew Research Center

Abortion should only be legal “under certain circumstances”

While a majority of Americans do not want to overturn the Supreme Court decision that found women have the right to an abortion, they don’t necessarily favor abortion in all circumstances. A majority of Americans feel that certain aspects of abortion should be illegal.

Gallup found in their May 2018 poll that only 29 percent of Americans want abortion to remain “legal under any circumstances,” compared to 18 percent who want it wholly outlawed and 2 percent with no opinion. The remaining 50 percent of Americans think “abortions should be legal only under certain circumstances.”

50% of Americans think that abortion should only be “legal under certain circumstances.” 29% think it should be legal under all circumstances and 18% believe it should be wholly illegal. Gallup

Voters want a justice who will protect abortion rights

A majority of voters want Trump to nominate a Supreme Court justice who will support abortion rights, gay marriage, and the rights of undocumented immigrants.

Politico/Morning Consult

According to a late June poll from Politico and Morning Consult, 52 percent of voters want a pro-abortion rights Supreme Court justice, while 29 percent want someone who opposes abortion and 19 percent do not know.

Far more Democrats than Republicans want a justice who is pro-abortion rights — 73 percent versus 31 percent, respectively. 54 percent of Republicans want a justice who outright opposes abortion, leaving 15 percent who haven’t made up their mind.

At the end of the day, though, what could matter most is what two senators think about the nominee’s position on Roe and abortion rights. Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) are part of the minority of Republicans who oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. But unlike most other supporters of abortion rights within their party, they could do something about it: With the Senate split between 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, a defection could end a Supreme Court nominee’s chances. After Trump announces his choice, all eyes will be on them.

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