Although most Americans describe themselves as "pro-choice," a majority also would support some legal limits on abortion, as well as conscience protections for health care workers who do not wish to participate in those procedures, according to a new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
For more than a decade, each year's version of the poll has shown that Americans broadly support some limits to abortion, even where they would keep the practice generally available.
Among Americans, 58% identify as "pro-choice," while 40% identify as "pro-life," according to a Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll released Jan. 17. The poll shows a slight decrease from the same poll released in January 2023, when 61% of Americans identified as "pro-choice."
At that time, pollsters attributed the slight uptick from 2022 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. The June 2022 ruling reversed the high court's prior jurisprudence in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which had declared abortion a constitutional right.
"Once again, most Americans are steadfast in their belief that abortion should be significantly limited yet laws should include exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother," Barbara L. Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, said in a statement. "This clear trend found in the annual Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll has continued, nearly two years after the Supreme Court's landmark Dobbs decision."
The Marist Poll data shows that 58% of Americans support keeping abortion legal through the first trimester at most -- but according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most abortions in the U.S. 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, meaning restrictions on abortion outside the first trimester would have a significant but not drastic impact on the occurrence of legal abortion.
The Marist Poll showed that four out of 10 Americans who favored more substantial limitations on legal abortion said the practice should be permitted only in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother's life (22%), with 9% saying it should be allowed only to save the mother's life, and another 9% saying it should "never be permitted under any circumstance."
Another 61% of Americans also agreed that an in-person visit with a health care professional should be required for anyone seeking prescription medication intended to cause an abortion.
Only 33% of respondents said they believed abortion should be allowed without any limits.
The poll found that 66% of Americans said doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals who have religious or other conscientious objections to abortion should not be legally required to perform abortions.
The poll also found broad support (83%) for pregnancy resource centers that support mothers both during and after pregnancy.
Majorities also opposed spending tax dollars on abortion at home (53%) or overseas (67%).
The Catholic Church opposes abortion, outlining its teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception"; because abortion takes the life of an already conceived child, it is "gravely contrary to the moral law."
At the same time, Catholic leaders have called for policies and actions to support families to welcome the gift of life based on that position.
"Each of us is called to help mothers in our own community secure material, emotional, and spiritual support for embracing the gift of life," Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, the chair of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, said in a Jan. 16 statement issued to mark the Jan. 22 Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. "Likewise, we must also support policies that assist women and their children and help families to flourish ... may we work together toward the day when society, through its laws and institutions, protects and nurtures human life at every stage of its existence."
Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said in a statement that the 2024 poll "makes clear that a consistent consensus of Americans supports legal restrictions on abortion, and an overwhelming majority support pregnancy resource centers, which assist mothers and their children in greatest need."
"I'm very proud that our Knights across the U.S. and Canada have raised more than $7 million to support these vital centers through our ASAP, or Aid and Support After Pregnancy program," Kelly said. "Knights have also funded the purchase of over 1,790 ultrasounds, empowering an estimated 1.5 million mothers to see their unborn babies. The Knights of Columbus will continue to work tirelessly in our mission until abortion becomes unthinkable."
The Marist Poll was conducted Jan. 8-9, surveying 1,371 adults in English and Spanish with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.