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Views about abortion often contradictory in polls

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WASHINGTON — How to make sense of Americans’ attitudes toward abortion? It isn’t easy.

In polls, many respondents will give answers that contradict each other.

A Gallup poll in 2019 — Gallup has polled regularly on abortion since 1975 — found that 92% of Americans believed that using birth control was “morally acceptable,” but their support for abortion, by contrast, was more mixed. The Catholic Church teaches that both are morally wrong.

But the year before, Gallup found that 65% of Americans believed abortion should generally be illegal during the second trimester of pregnancy — but in the same survey, 69% said the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade.

FiveThirtyEight, which itself analyzed abortion polls, “found that a large majority of Americans support abortion in the first trimester, but that support tends to drop in the second trimester.”

In an ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in late April, 54% of Americans want the court to uphold Roe, nearly twice as many as the 28% who want to see it struck down. Also, an ABC poll offering only a yes-or-no choice found that 57% of Americans opposed a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while 58% opposed a ban after six weeks.

If abortion weighs on the mind of pregnant women, talking about it seems to be just as difficult for all Americans.

Hannah Hartig, a research associate on the U.S. politics team for the Pew Research Center, calls it “cross pressure.”

Pew has been polling regularly about abortion since 1995.

“Some 33% of adults say human life begins at conception, and so a fetus is a person with rights,” Hartig told Catholic News Service in a May 16 phone interview. But a comfortable majority of respondents also say that the decision on whether to have an abortion belongs to the woman.

“So, on one hand you can look at them and think that they’re contradictory,” she said, but it isn’t necessarily the case because of this cross pressure.

Results of Pew’s latest polling on abortion, issued May 6, show a starker partisan divide than had existed in the past.

Since 2007, Republicans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases went up from 37% to 39%. Among Democrats, the percentages went up from 63% in 2007 to 80% in 2022. In 2012, the percentages of Americans either for or against abortion came together the closest they’d been, but support for legal abortion has never fallen below 50%.

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