With the Supreme Court appearing poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion access could soon be left up to individual states.
Abortion in Pennsylvania is currently legal up to about the 24th week of pregnancy. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, state law could be changed by elected officials in Harrisburg to include tighter restrictions or even a total ban.
Like much of the state’s politics, Pennsylvanians’ opinions on abortion span a wide range but largely mirror national trends, according to a review of public polls. The majority of Pennsylvanians support some access to abortion. But while politicians in both parties have migrated to polar opposite positions on the issue, surveys show the majority of voters fall somewhere in the middle — favoring some limitations but not far-reaching restrictions.
Here’s what you need to know:
Pennsylvanians have become slightly more supportive of abortion
Support for abortion has increased slightly over the last decade, according to Franklin & Marshall College, which has regularly polled on the issue since 2009.
In April 2022, 31% of registered Pennsylvania voters said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, compared with 18% in June 2009.
The majority of voters (53% in April) say abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, a number that hasn’t moved much since 2009, when it was 58%.
The proportion of Pennsylvanians who say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances has decreased, from 22% in 2009 to 16% in April.
Democrats favor abortion access more than Republicans do. In a 2020 TargetSmart poll conducted for the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund, which advocates for abortion access, 86% of Democrats, 61% of independents, and 41% of Republicans said they wanted abortion to remain legal.
But polling on abortion is nuanced
Since most people fall somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum on abortion, it’s unclear exactly what abortion restrictions they favor.
That 53% of people who support abortion “under certain circumstances” would include those who say abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or a danger to the life of the pregnant person. It would also include people who say abortion should be legal with only the most limited restrictions.
As lawmakers start drafting abortion restrictions — ones that ban the procedure six, 12, or more weeks into a pregnancy — it’s unclear where people polled on the issue might be, or if they even know what to make of those cutoffs.
“The broad general patterns kind of hide complicated decision-making that is really contingent on circumstance,” said Berwood A. Yost, a Franklin & Marshall pollster. “It’s clear to me that most people are not in the extremes on this issue. People are willing to accept some limitations. But ... most people would not want to see this banned outright.”
Polling results can also change depending on how questions are asked or what information is given to respondents. For example, a national Kaiser Family Foundation poll in 2020 found that support for an abortion ban at the so-called fetal heartbeat stage dropped from 49% to 38% after respondents were told that stage corresponds with about six weeks of pregnancy — when many don’t know they’re pregnant.
“Any complicated question is prone to showing different patterns of response depending on how it’s framed,” Yost said.
Abortion doesn’t rank high among issues voters say they care about
When pollsters ask Pennsylvanians what issues matter most to them, abortion hasn’t traditionally ranked very high. In an April Monmouth University poll of Pennsylvania voters, just 3% of Republicans and 5% of Democrats listed it as their first or second “most important issue.”
During the 2020 election, abortion ranked the lowest among issues voters listed to Pew Research Center as “very important,” with health care and the economy at the top. Supreme Court justices ranked third, though, which could be an indication that Roe v. Wade was on voters’ minds.
Now that sweeping changes could take effect, the issue could become more important to voters.
Americans support upholding Roe v. Wade by 2-1
Nationally, 58% of Americans oppose the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a Gallup poll from June 2021, consistent with the 52% to 66% range found since 1989.
A Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday and conducted last week found that 54% of Americans say Roe should be upheld, while 28% say it should be overturned.
Even as a majority of Americans say they support Roe v. Wade, polls also show majorities support various restrictions, including ones that would violate Roe.
Polling on specific laws may better gauge public sentiment
Moving away from general questions to specific legislation could be a better lens into public opinion.
A survey of 1,696 U.S. adults from November found an even split between those who favored (39%) and opposed (38%) a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after about 3½ months.
A Wall Street Journal poll from April found 48% of voters nationwide somewhat support restricting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while 43% oppose it.
A more restrictive Texas law, which bans abortions after six weeks and allows private citizens to sue providers, was opposed by six in 10 Americans, including 59% of Republicans, 61% of Democrats, and 53% of independents.
An October Franklin & Marshall poll found 81% of Pennsylvania voters would be strongly or somewhat opposed to such a law here, while 14% would support it.