If you read or watch the mainstream media, you’d think that abortion is one of the most divisive and partisan issues in America.
The media depict Americans pitted against each other in two distinct camps – pro-life or pro-choice – and hand their bully pulpit to the most extreme elements in both groups. On one side, we are inundated with rhetoric from radicals like Planned Parenthood and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam advocating the illogically extreme pro-choice position of “post-birth abortion.” While radicals in the pro-life movement, Eric Rudolph most notably in North Carolina, have justified violent attacks on abortion clinics and providers as saving the lives of unborn children.
CPR’s recent survey of North Carolina voters shows something very different: NC Statewide Survey Abortion.
42% of voters consider themselves to be pro-life and 48% consider themselves pro-choice. These number have been remarkably consistent in our polls over the years, with both numbers floating around in the mid-40s. 81% of voters believe abortion is an important issue, which might seem like a lot until you consider that voters ranked it second to last – ahead of only “climate change, the environment, and pollution” – in importance among the 14 issues we tested. Voters considered issues like inflation, public school quality, gun rights, immigration and crime more important than abortion. Voters were about evenly divided on which political party they trust most to handle abortion, with 48% trusting the Democrats and 43% trusting the Republicans to best deal with the issue.
We asked voters to delineate their personal position on abortion more specifically and the results were surprising. Large numbers of pro-life voters favor exceptions that would allow abortion in some circumstances. And large numbers of pro-choice voters favored some limitations on the availability of abortion, especially in the third trimester of pregnancy. Majorities of voters reject the most extreme pro-choice and pro-life positions. 23% of voters thought abortion should be legal in all circumstances while only 11% of voters thought abortion should not be legal in any circumstance.
The latter number might come as a surprise until one considers that even conservative religious denominations like Mormons, the Assemblies of God and the Catholic Church support various exceptions to complete prohibitions on abortion, exceptions such as the life of the mother or pregnancies arising from rape and incest. This probably explains why 55% of voters would oppose a legislative proposal to make abortion LEGAL in all circumstances and 70% of voters – including 60% of evangelical voters – would oppose a legislative proposal to make abortion ILLEGAL in all circumstances.
Further evidence of the nuanced position voters hold on abortion can be found when looking at how pro-life and pro-choice voters outline their more specific position. 19% of pro-life voters believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, 57% support exceptions for instances like rape, incest or the life of the mother, and 10% of pro-life voters believe abortion should be legal during the first trimester of pregnancy. 41% of pro-choice voters believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, while 12% believe abortion should only be legal through the 20th week of pregnancy and 23% believe abortion should be legal during the first trimester of pregnancy.
If the United States Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in June and returns control of abortion laws to the states, North Carolina’s ban on post-20th week abortion will likely take effect.
Whether the legislature places further restrictions on abortion will be a question that dominates the 2023 legislative session.