Gallup Poll: Americans Want All or Most Abortions Illegal

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 23, 2011   |   10:46AM   |   Washington, DC

Gallup released its annual abortion poll today showing Americans want all or most abortions made illegal and saying they believe abortion to be morally wrong, but the poll found Americans split on what they call their abortion position.

The Gallup polling firm conducted a national survey from May 5-8 with a random sample of 1,018 adults, aged 18 and older from across the nation. The poll has a 4 percentage point margin of error.

By a 24 percent margin, 61-37 percent, Americans take the pro-life view that abortions should either be legal under no circumstances or legal only under a few circumstances. Although Gallup doesn’t specify those “few” circumstances, polling data has consistently shown that, when asked about cases such as rape,  incest, or the life of the mother, a majority of Americans want all or almost all abortions made illegal — leaving only life of the mother or rape and incest as the exceptions.

“Americans are rather conservative in their stance on abortion, with 61% now preferring that abortion be legal in only a few circumstances or no circumstances. By contrast, 37% want abortion legal in all or most circumstances,” Gallup analyst Lydia Saad writes. “Over the past two decades, Americans have consistently leaned toward believing abortion should be legal in only a few or no circumstances, although less so in the mid-1990s than since about 1997, when combined support for these has averaged close to 60%.”

In fact, Gallup polling shows that, since 1994, a majority of Americans have held a pro-life view wanting all or almost all abortions made illegal — and that pro-life view has strengthened with an average of 60 percent of Americans saying that over the years.

Breaking down those numbers further, Gallup finds that pro-life view as seen across the board — with 60 percent of women and 61 percent of men saying they want all or almost all abortions illegal. Women actually take a stronger pro-life view than men with 24 percent of American women wanting all abortions made illegal and 36 percent wanting almost all illegal, compared with 19 percent of men who want to ban all abortions and 42 percent of men who want to prohibit almost all.

By age, Americans also oppose abortions — with 59 percent of people aged 18-34, 58 percent of those 35-54 and 64 percent of those over the age of 55 saying all or almost all abortions should become illegal. Younger Americans are most supportive of making all abortions illegal, with 24 percent of 18-34 year-olds saying so and 35 percent saying they want abortions legal only in a few circumstances.

Republicans are considerably more pro-life on abortion than independents or Democrats, with 79 percent of them saying they want all or almost all abortions prohibited, whereas 60 percent of independents take that position and 44 percent of Democrats agreeing.

As is the case with most national surveys, a majority of Americans all say abortion is “morally wrong” — something the Gallup poll has shown since 2001.

“Just over half of Americans, 51%, believe abortion is “morally wrong,” while 39% say it is “morally acceptable.” Americans’ views on this have been fairly steady since 2002, except for 2006, when they were evenly divided,” Saad indicated.

Breaking down that question further, men and women are united, at 51 percent, in saying abortion is morally wrong. Younger and older Americans (53 percent and 51 percent, respectively) agree while middle aged Americans agree on a 48 percent clip. Some 74 percent of Republicans, 44 percent of independents, and 36 percent of Democrats say abortion is morally wrong.

Despite Americans taking clear pro-life positions on abortion, by wanting them prohibited or saying they are morally wrong, Americans are divided on what to call their abortion views — with many pro-life Americans apparently erroneously believing they are “pro-choice” rather than pro-life.

Currently, 49 percent of Americans call themselves “pro-choice” on abortion while 45 percent refer to their position as pro-life. That’s a change from the poll last year when 47 percent of Americans said they were pro-life and 45 percent said they were “pro-choice.” However, it is the first time since 2008 that the “pro-choice” position has had the numerical advantage on this Gallup trend.

The results make it clear that, despite their labeling of their own abortion views, a majority of Americans clearly not only oppose abortion and believe it to be a morally improper “choice,” but they believe the legal status of abortions should change and all or virtually all abortions should be prohibited. That is borne out by the results among the 18-34 group, with 51 percent saying they are pro-choice and 42 percent saying they are pro-life, the lowest percentage of any of the three age categories. However, 9 percent — almost 1 in 10 young adults — don’t know how to classify their abortion views, a mark that is twice as high as the other age categories.

The results of the Gallup poll show pro-life groups need to educate Americans on what constitutes a pro-life position — and to encourage them to call themselves pro-life when they want all or almost all abortions made illegal and believe abortion to be a morally wrong decision.