What Do Americans Think About Abortion? It’s Complicated

For decades, Gallup has been doing annual polling on abortion, asking people whether they consider themselves “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Since the late 90s, the division between the two has been both stark and even, with both registering in at the mid 40s and coming to within a few percentage points’ difference.

When forced to choose between the two labels, most do, and as a result, Americans look completely polarized on abortion. Yet when asked to provide their own definitions, it turns out that the general public has far more consensus on reproductive rights than a Gallup poll will ever show.

Vox.com offered a new way to poll on abortion with their newly released survey, “What Americans think of Abortion: It’s not so black and white.” The news outlet polled over 1000 adults across the country, asking them about the availability and legality of abortion. Once you get over the fact that only two out of every three people asked actually knew what Roe v. Wade was about, the general beliefs of those who responded where quite similar. Over two thirds of those questioned said Roe should not be overturned, and 62 percent of respondents believed that as long as abortion continues to be legal, “women should have access to safe and affordable abortion care.”

Once you drill down into whether abortion should be legal or not, people once more divide evenly, with 46 percent saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 50 percent saying abortion should be available only when the pregnant person has been abused, assaulted or her health is at risk, or under no circumstances whatsoever. Despite such a large number of people saying the want to restrict the cases in which a person can get an abortion, only 23 percent said more laws should be passed to make abortion less available and only 19 percent said that if a family member or friend decided to have an abortion, they would refuse to offer support.

Most surprising? Almost 40 percent of those questioned rejected picking a “pro-life” or “pro-choice” label, describing themselves as either neither or both.

“Abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate: Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” writes Vox.com’s Sarah Kliff. “They think  Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America, was a good ruling, or a terrible one. There are the pro-choice groups and the pro-life groups. But I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family and the people I meet in my reporting about how they view the issue. Here’s what I’ve learned: they don’t live in this world of absolutes. Abortion views are indeed strongly held, but what most discourse misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.”

It’s an experience that I’ve seen first hand as I’ve traveled to different parts of the country, speaking to people about abortion access. In Mississippi I saw that frequently, when I asked a person where they stood on abortion, he or she would immediately tell me, “I’m pro-life.” When we would continue the discussion, bringing up examples of pregnant people who may be seeking out the procedure – a young teen who was sexually assaulted, a single mother of three just about to return to work for the first time in almost a decade and get her family out of poverty and government support, or a student so close to graduation who can’t finish her last year of school and remain pregnant – in nearly every case that person would agree that, yes, maybe that could be the one exception to their “pro-life” stance.

So how does the nuance that most people really live in translate to real laws that make abortion accessible, safe and affordable – all things that the majority of people polled say they want as long as abortion is legal? It requires translating this “middle-ground” consensus into real policies such as ending the Hyde amendment, which forbids abortion coverage in Medicaid insurance and other insurance that is directly or indirectly financed by the government, or urging people to become involved in arguing against extreme bills that jeopardize abortion safety, such as banning training in the procedure at medical schools and universities.

Nearly 40 percent of people don’t align with “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” and they don’t align with the “abortion should be illegal under all conditions” legislative battle being enacted at a state level. Let’s give them policies they can align with.

Photo: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S1 years ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

jan b.
jan b3 years ago

About time----people stop thinking and talking about abortion when they aren't physically, financially or emotionally going to be involved. To me its a violation of privacy. And further for the gov't to legislate vaginal probes or be involved in any way is taking away Constitutional rights of women.

Religious freedom today via the Taliban republicans means BELIEVE AS I DO

Fran away F.
Fran F3 years ago

People who deny that all abortion decisions should ultimately be those of women and their doctors need to realize that they are advocating a lower tier of citizenship for women, minus the full set of Constitutional rights. Such deniers need to own up to the harsh anti-democratic nature of their positions. Abortion is no business of anyone not directly involved.

Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago


pam w.
pam w3 years ago

Jeannine...if that's what you ''believe,'' don't have an abortion.

But...it's not what I believe....so don't try to impact my life with your beliefs.


dagmar karin dag
dagmar karin dag3 years ago

Traer al mundo a una criatura es una responsabilidad,que no todas saben asumir.Cada mujer debe tener el derecho de elegir,y un embarazo no deseado,se convierte en un hijo no deseado.La educacion sexual,es indispensable para saber que se puede evitar el embarazo.

Dt Nc
Dt Nc3 years ago

People should have the freedom to choose, they should be able to control their own destiny, and accept the karma of their decision.

Jeannine a Johnson
Jeannine Johnson3 years ago

I Believe Every Baby Is A Gift From God ! She / He Didn't Ask To Be Born & They Didn't Ask To Be Ground Up Like Hamburg Either !!