Although most Americans describe themselves as pro-choice, a majority also would support some legal limits on abortion, while keeping the procedure largely available, according to a new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
Among Americans, 61% identify as pro-choice, while 39% identify as pro-life, according to a Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll released Jan 18. The poll shows an uptick from the same poll released in January 2022, when 55% of Americans identified as pro-choice. Pollsters attributed the difference to increased concerns over a total ban on abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June 2022. The ruling reversed the high court's prior jurisprudence in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had declared abortion a constitutional right.
But the annual Marist Poll regarding U.S. views on abortion goes beyond the labels to ask Americans their views on more specific proposals to limit abortion.
"The labels of pro-life and pro-choice don't describe where Americans really are," Timothy Saccoccia, vice president of public policy for the Knights of Columbus, told reporters on a Jan. 18 press call.
The same poll found 69% of Americans would favor restrictions limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy at most -- theoretically leaving most abortions in the U.S. legal. That number is comparable to the same poll's January survey for the previous several years.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that most abortions in the US. take place well within the first trimester. CDC data from 2020 found that 93.1% of abortions were performed at less than 13 weeks’ gestation.
However, majorities of Americans also said they oppose the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion within the U.S. or abroad, and that they oppose abortion on the basis of fetal gender or a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis.
"When asked about their actual opinions, 69% of Americans support real restrictions on abortion, that are more pro-life than federal law, and the laws now in many states," Saccoccia said. "This includes limiting abortion to at most the first three months of pregnancy and permitting abortion only in certain circumstances."
Majorities of Americans also said that they support pregnancy resource centers that do not perform abortions but instead offer support to people during and after pregnancy. They said medical professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion also should not be required by law to perform them.
The 2023 poll found that a growing share of Americans, or 90%, said that laws can protect both a woman and an unborn child, rather than choosing between them, which is up from 81% in the 2022 poll.
The findings of the poll were impacted by the Dobbs ruling, pollsters told reporters Jan. 18.
Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, said there is not an appetite among Americans for either a complete ban on abortion or wholesale access to it.
"There's really an attitude that there needs to be exceptions, particularly for the life of the mother," Carvalho said.
Carvalho said an uptick of Americans identifying as pro-choice is tied to a concern "that abortion may become completely illegal under any circumstance" following the Dobbs decision.
"The public is understanding that they do not want abortion to be available under any circumstance," Carvalho said. "They do want certain restrictions and limits to it. But again, they don't want it to be completely illegal."