KFF Poll: Majority of Americans Say Recent State Abortion Regulations Are Intended to Reduce Access

New KFF Poll Finds Significant Knowledge Gap About Abortion Among the Public; Despite Shifting Abortion Policy Landscape, Reproductive Health Issues Are Not a Top Priority for Democrats in 2020.

The latest KFF poll finds most Americans (67%) think recent state-level abortion restrictions are designed to make access to abortion more difficult, rather than protect women’s health and safety. These state-level abortion restrictions have become more common in the last several years – with lawmakers arguing that these laws are intended to protect women’s health and safety.

Overall, twice as many think recent state actions are generally designed to make it more difficult for women to access abortion (67%) rather than protect the health and safety of women (32%). Three-fourths of Democrats (77%) as well as six in ten independents (61%) and Republicans (62%) say these state laws are designed to make it more difficult for women to access abortions. The poll also found the public overwhelmingly thinks that decisions about abortions should be made by women in consultation with their doctors (79%) rather than having lawmakers decide when abortions should be available and under what conditions (20%).

Despite knowing that these state actions are intended to reduce access to abortion, the poll also found that many support some of these regulations, including laws that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals (69%) and laws that prohibit abortions once cardiac activity is detected (49%).

However, opinions on many state-level abortion laws can change once people hear counter-arguments.   Support for admitting privilege requirements drops 17 percentage points to 52 percent after hearing that complications from abortions are extremely rare and women who need hospital treatment following a procedure can receive care whether or not the provider has admitting privileges. Support for fetal heartbeat laws drops 11 percentage points to 38 percent after hearing that cardiac activity is usually detectable around six weeks into pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant.

Nearly five decades since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, a majority (69%) of the public do not want to see the Supreme Court overturn the 1973 landmark case. While a majority of Republicans (57%) would like to see Roe overturned, larger majorities of Democrats (91%) and independents (70%) do not want it overturned.

Few (11%) think abortion should be illegal in all cases, with the remainder saying abortion should be legal in all cases (27%), legal in most cases (32%), or illegal in most cases (30%). Large majorities think abortion should be legal if the patient’s life is endangered (82%), in cases of rape or incest (80%), if the fetus is not expected to survive (75%), or if the fetus is expected to have serious birth defects (71%). A smaller majority say abortion should be legal for women who do not want to be pregnant (55%).

The poll also finds there are significant knowledge gaps on abortion among the public. A majority (69%) incorrectly think most abortions occur 8 weeks or later into a pregnancy and few (11%) are aware that less than 5% of abortions occur more than 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

In addition, only about one-fifth of adults (21%) and one-third of women between the ages of 18 and 49 (36%) have ever heard of Mifepristone, or a medication abortion.

Despite an increase in state-level abortion regulations and ongoing court cases regarding reproductive health care, these issues do not appear to be a priority in the 2020 election for most voters – even among Democrats. Health care generally is the top issue that Democrats want to hear discussed by the 2020 presidential candidates, with one-third calling it the most important issue. Only six percent of Democrats cite reproductive health issues, including birth control and abortion, as their chief concern.

METHODOLOGY

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the poll was conducted December 20-30, 2019 among a nationally representative probability-based sample of 1,215 adults including an oversample of 351 women, 18-49 years old. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish online (1,100) and on the phone (115). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample and 6 percentage points for women, 18-49. See topline for margin of sampling error for other subgroups.