Polls Claim Americans Support Roe, But There's More Beneath the Surface

Posted: May 22, 2021 10:45 PM
Polls Claim Americans Support Roe, But There's More Beneath the Surface

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

It's been nearly a week since the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health and decide the fate of a 15-week abortion ban from Mississippi, known as the Gestational Age Act. Not only is the Court hearing a case to do with a gestational ban, but one which could directly challenge Roe v. Wade. The media have been quick to remind people that Americans support Roe and don't want it overturned. While that's true, there's more to this story, a lot more.

Friday's FiveThirtyEight edition of "Pollapalooza" focused on how "Most Americans Don’t Want Roe v. Wade Repealed. Many Also Support Restrictions On Abortion."

The problem with such poll analysis is apparent in the first paragraph. "At issue is the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about two months earlier than Roe and subsequent rulings, such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, allow," one sentence reads. 

Referring to Roe in such a way, and from those who should know better, sets off all the alarms. The description claims that the rulings referenced above allow for abortion bans past 23-weeks.

As it turns out though, there is a lesser known companion case to Roe decided the same day, Doe v. Bolton, which dictates there be a health exemption, defined as "physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -- relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health."

Research shows that most late-term abortions are performed on healthy women with healthy babies, and are done for socio-economic reasons.  

"Most Americans don’t want to repeal Roe, but many are comfortable with some restrictions on abortion earlier than currently allowed under Roe," another part of the FiveThirtyEight pollapalooza mentions. 

Imagine how Americans would feel if polls and poll analyses were more accurate.

There is another part which is worth addressing, specifically remarks made by Professor Mary Ziegler, author of "Abortion and the Law in America." She claimed that "People are relatively happy with the status quo, which is legal but restricted abortions. A post-Roe world would probably not be that in a lot of states. It would be outright bans on abortion."

In actuality, the United States has some of the most relaxed abortion laws in the entire world, in part because we are one of only seven nations which allows for elective abortions past 20-weeks pregnancy. So to refer to the "status quo" as "legal but restricted abortions" is only one narrow view of looking at it.

A world after Roe merely means that states would be permitted to decide their own abortion laws. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "22 states have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion," which includes "10 states [that] have post-Roe laws to ban all or nearly all abortions that would be triggered if Roe were overturned." Further, "14 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect the right to abortion."

If people don't know that Doe allows for legal abortions throughout all of pregnancy, then it stands that they're more likely to support the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton abortion decisions, especially if they are misled by pollsters.

Michael New has also offered analysis for National Review, with "Recycled Roe v. Wade Polls Continue to Mislead." As he explains it:

But in fact, there is no contradiction here. There are two straightforward reasons why Roe v. Wade often polls well. First, most polls on the Roe fail to inform respondents that the decision effectively legalized abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy, a status quo few Americans support. In fact, some polls, like a 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, even confuse respondents by claiming that Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to an abortion “at least in the first three months of pregnancy.” 

Second, most polls on Roe fail to inform respondents that a reversal of the ruling  would not ban all abortions but instead would return abortion policy to the states. If survey firms were clearer about both the policy effects of Roe and the implications of its reversal, public support for Roe almost certainly would decline.

According to poll results from Quinnipiac last October, likely voters were asked "In general, do you agree or disagree with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion?" Sixty-six percent said they agreed, 27 percent said they disagreed.

The Kaiser Family Foundation in December 2019 asked adults "As you may know, the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade established a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion. Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, or not? Sixty-nine percent of adults said they did not, 27 percent did.

KFF may be further memorable because part of their insight claims that "Most Are Aware Roe v. Wade Allows Some Restrictions on Abortions," rather than how many hoops states have to jump through currently because of Roe, which my make it sound more permissive than it is.

A July 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll actually misled respondents when it asked them "The Supreme Court's 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?" Twenty-three percent said overturn, 71 percent said do not. 

The Gestational Age Act is particularly noteworthy because it bans abortions a few weeks after the first-trimester. 

It is a lot simpler and direct to poll American support for abortion by trimester, and Americans are not as supportive of the procedure later into pregnancy. 

According to Gallup poll results from May 2018, only 28 percent of respondents think abortion should be legal in "the second three months of pregnancy," while 65 percent think it should be illegal. 

At this stage of pregnancy, a woman is likely to undergo a D&E abortion, also known as dilation and extraction. Abortion Procedures, a project of Live Action says this method "is a surgical abortion procedure during which an abortionist first dilates the woman’s cervix and then uses instruments to dismember and extract the baby from the uterus." 

Here is an expanded description of the procedure:

To prepare for a D&E abortion, the abortionist uses laminaria, a form of sterilized seaweed, to open the woman’s cervix 24 to 48 hours before the procedure. The laminaria soaks up liquid from the woman’s body and expands, widening (i.e., dilating) the cervix.

When the woman returns to the abortion clinic, the abortionist may administer anesthesia and further open the cervix using metal dilators and a speculum. The abortionist inserts a large suction catheter into the uterus and turns it on, emptying the amniotic fluid.

After the amniotic fluid is removed, the abortionist uses a sopher clamp — a grasping instrument with rows of sharp “teeth” — to grasp and pull the baby’s arms and legs, tearing the limbs from the child’s body. The abortionist continues to grasp intestines, spine, heart, lungs, and any other limbs or body parts. The most difficult part of the procedure is usually finding, grasping and crushing the baby’s head. After removing pieces of the child’s skull, the abortionist uses a curette to scrape the uterus and remove the placenta and any remaining parts of the baby.

The abortionist then collects all of the baby’s parts and reassembles them to make sure there are two arms, two legs, and that all of the pieces have been removed.

The Mayo Clinic says this about this point of pregnancy:

As your pregnancy progresses, your baby might begin to seem more real. Two months ago, your baby was a cluster of cells. Now he or she has functioning organs, nerves and muscles...


Fifteen weeks into your pregnancy, or 13 weeks after conception, your baby is growing rapidly. Bone development continues and will soon become visible on ultrasound images. Your baby's scalp hair pattern also is forming.

Even if Americans want Roe to remain, namely for the sake of access to legal abortion in the first trimester, they still want states to be able to protect unborn life, especially in later stages of pregnancy. The Supreme Court is completely capable of giving the American people what they want.