It’s a frequent misconception that there are only two sides to the argument for repealing Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973. The argument goes that people who believe abortion should be legal and that Roe should be upheld are on one side, while those who believe abortion should be unlawful and that Roe should be reversed are on the other.
In fact, the Public Religion Research Institute, where I serve as the director of research, polled more than 5,000 Americans in March about their opinions on abortion. We discovered that 64% of respondents believed that abortion should be permitted in most or all situations, while 35% disagreed. These findings are in line with past surveys on the subject; the majority of Americans favour legalizing abortion, however the precise percentage fluctuates depending on how the questions are worded and which response alternatives are offered.
Contrary to popular belief, just 26% of those who believed abortion should be allowed in most or all situations favoured reversing Roe, compared to 43% of those who believed abortion should be outlawed in most or all situations.
A typical response to this kind of disparity in opinions is that survey participants are in error. In fact, when I told several of my well-informed acquaintances about this discovery, their initial reaction was that people are either stupid or not paying attention. I’ve witnessed that response to my study as an opinion researcher more times than I can count. It is conceivable for a respondent to see “Roe v. Wade” and quickly choose “oppose,” believing that this was the appropriate response for those who are against abortion, and vice versa for those who are in favour of it. Even though Roe v.
Wade is described in the survey question phrasing as “the 1973 Supreme Court decision that confirmed a constitutional right to abortion,” there could be some confusion about what it means to “overturn” a case. But blaming ignorance or a lack of understanding for all of this misalignment ignores the fact that many individuals do have thoughtful opinions on complicated topics like abortion and Roe v.
Wade. In reality, based on an examination of his writings, remarks, and earlier rulings, Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court is most certainly one of those individuals.
Although he appears to believe that abortion should be prohibited, he opposes overturning Roe. Nobody would describe Roberts as ignorant. Granted, the majority of Americans do not value Supreme Court precedent as highly as Roberts does, nor are they as well-informed as Roberts.
But examining what is known about those who have seemingly divergent opinions on abortion and reversing Roe illustrates where competing influences may be at work. Women and men are equally likely to have cross-pressured beliefs, which is true of the majority of public opinion on abortion. However, there are definite racial, epochal, and educational tendencies.
Hispanic (24%) and Black (39%) (36 percent) Americans, for example, were more likely than white (28%) or Asian or Pacific Islander (28%) or multiracial Americans to fall into this cross-pressured group (21 percent). Younger Americans, especially those between the ages of 30 and 49, as well as parents of children under the age of 18 (38%) compared to non-parents, were more likely to report cross-pressured attitudes (37%) than other age groups (28 percent).
Last but not least, 4 in 10 Americans with only a high school diploma or less fell into this category, which was significantly lower than the percentage of those with more formal education (31 percent some college education; 19 percent college degree or higher). Democrats (26%) were more likely to be conflicted than Republicans (36%) were.
And given that the majority of Republicans believe that abortion should be banned, more people went into this category (24%) than into the legal but overturn category (more people came into the legal but overturn category given that the majority of Democrats believe that abortion should be legal) (18 percent).
Unsurprisingly, quite a few Christian organizations have notably large percentages that fall within this type of cross-pressured beliefs because abortion is a topic with specific theological connotations. More white evangelical Protestants, Hispanic Protestants, and Hispanic Catholics fell into the illegal-but-don’t-overturn group than the legal-but-overturn category, although more Black Protestants and non-Christian religious Americans fell into the legal-but-overturn category.
Each of these groups included at least 35% members who were subject to cross-pressure. All of this clearly shows that individuals who were Black, Hispanic, parents, between the ages of 30 and 49, had a high school education, identified as Republican, or were religious were those who were more likely to be subjected to cross-pressure on abortion.
Consider that in the same study, 61 percent of those with a high school education or less stated they did not know what will happen in their state if Roe is reversed. Lower education levels may also contribute to part of what we observe. A college degree or higher (37%) and some college (47%) were significantly less likely to indicate they’re unsure. Nevertheless, a sizable portion of Republicans and Christians, who are often linked with anti-abortion views, responded that while they personally believe that abortion should be prohibited, they do not want Roe v. Wade reversed.
They might not wish to leave everything to the states, or they might have similar motives as Roberts. A Pew Research Center survey done around the same time as PRRI’s indicated that just 36% of Americans had given the matter considerable attention. On the other hand, it might be evidence of people merely accepting the existing quo. Of course, if Roe is in fact reversed in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, some of these relationships may change in the upcoming weeks and months. However, the fact that opinions on abortion and Roe v. Wade are complicated and nuanced will not alter. It is incorrect to analyze the topic using simply one poll question; opinions on abortion cannot be boiled down to a straightforward legal/illegal framework, especially in light of Roe. Simply put, the responses might not signify what you believe they do.