Americans Show Rising Support for Abortion Rights: Poll

Results of Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey run counter to states' recent efforts to curb access

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- Despite recent moves by some states to restrict access to abortion, more Americans now support a woman's right to choose than they did two years ago, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll finds.

Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of those polled in 2009 supported the idea that a woman should have access to abortion in "all circumstances." But that number has risen to 36 percent in 2011 -- the highest proportion seen in Harris polls on the issue since 1985.

At the same time, the percentage of Americans opposed to abortion under any circumstances fell from 21 percent in 2009 to 17 percent this year.

The poll also found that almost half of U.S. adults (47 percent) favored permitting abortion under "some [but not all] circumstances," a slight dip from the 53 percent observed in 2009.

"Despite the current trend of fiscal conservatism in the United States stemming from the economic downturn, Americans overall remain socially moderate on abortion rights," said Jennifer Colamonico, senior vice president for healthcare research at Harris Interactive, which conducted the online survey of nearly 2,400 adults from July 6 to 8.

The poll results come against the backdrop of recent moves by some states to restrict access to abortion. These include legislation banning insurance coverage for abortion in the health insurance exchanges created as part of last year's federal health care reform; requirements that all women who are considering an abortion get an ultrasound first; and cutting public funding for Planned Parenthood. In some states, such as Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and North Carolina, some of these moves have already been implemented, according to published reports.

The public seems to be mixed on whether or not current laws on abortion need changing. Thirty-four percent said there should be laws put in place to make it more difficult for a woman to have an abortion, but 28 percent now favor legal means to open up access to abortion -- double the 14 percent seen in 2009. Thirty-eight percent favored no change at all to current laws.

More Republicans favored laws to make abortion more difficult (58 percent) than did Democrats (20 percent), and more Democrats (38 percent) wanted to make access to abortion easier compared to Republicans (18 percent).

However, most of the state initiatives that have garnered attention recently received only lukewarm support in the poll. For example, only one-third of respondents felt that eliminating public funding for Planned Parenthood was a good idea, while 55 percent felt the funding should be kept in place.

One state initiative that did get substantial approval was the proposal that all women considering abortion get an ultrasound first. Forty-seven percent of those polled supported the idea while 38 percent opposed it.

Most people (64 percent) also felt that abortion should not be allowed after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, while 22 percent felt it could be allowed after that date.

Overall, three-quarters of adults polled believed there should be a cut-off on how late in a pregnancy an abortion can be performed, compared to 13 percent who thought there should be no such limit.

"Given that Roe v. Wade ruled that the right to privacy protects abortion rights through the first two trimesters of pregnancy, it is notable that there is significant support for restricting abortion after 20 weeks," said Colamonico. "This shows that while support for abortion rights and access remains strong, a majority of Americans would tinker with the current law if it meant only minor changes to it."

More people supported allowing insurance coverage of abortion than opposed it (44 percent versus 36 percent). Based on that result, Colamonico believes that "denying coverage and access is not something that [most] Americans support."

Despite clear divisions along partisan lines, poll responses on the issue of abortion were relatively similar for males and females, and responses did not vary much between different age groups.