Americans Getting Increasingly Pro-Choice on Abortion

'Pro-choice' identification is back up to late 1990s levels.


World Can't Wait/Flickr

"Is the ground shifting under abortion?" asked The Christian Science Monitor yesterday. Indeed, there's growing evidence that Americans' abortion views are swinging more pro-choice these days. In the latest Gallup poll, released May 29, half Americans identified as "pro-choice" on abortion, compared to 44 percent who identified with the label "pro-life."

The prevailing narrative in the media, particularly conservative media, still seems to be that Americans—and especially young Americans—are trending more pro-life. But millennials tend to reject labels like pro-life and pro-choice, or say that both describe them equally well, reflecting a perhaps confused, perhaps more nuanced, or perhaps still developing sense on the issue. A Vox poll about abortion earlier this year found 18 percent of Americans of all age describe themselves as "both" pro-life and pro-choice, and 21 percent say "neither." More generally, "Americans have been fairly evenly divided in their association with the two abortion labels" over the past five years, states Gallup.

Throughout the '90s and first decade of this century, the pro-choice position almost always led by a substantial margin, though it did decline from 56 percent support in 1995 to 48 percent in 1999 and throughout the early aughts. 


"While Gallup does not define the pro-choice and pro-life terms for Americans, [respondents] answers to a separate question about the legality of abortion indicate that those favoring the pro-choice label generally support broad abortion rights, while pro-life adherents mostly favor limited or no abortion rights," notes the organization. Half of self-identified pro-choicers say abortion should be "legal under any circumstances," while 21 percent say it should be legal in "most" circumstances and 23 percent say it should be legal "in only a few circumstances." On the pro-life side, 37 percent say it should be illegal in all circumstances, 51 percent say it should be legal in a few circumstances and 5 percent say it should be legal in most circumstances.  



Notably, a slight gender gap on abortion has emerged, breaking from earlier trends of equally pro-life and pro-life positions among men and women. In Gallup's latest poll, 54 percent of women identified as pro-choice, compared to only 46 percent of men. This is the highest percentage of pro-choice women seen since before 2001. 

Young people's embrace of the pro-choice label, at 53 percent, is back to the numbers seen in the early 2000s, after dips into the 40s in 2009-2012. And 52 percent of 35- to 55-year-olds now say they're pro-choice (up from 47 percent in 2001 and 44 percent in 2009), as do 47 percent of those 55 and up (up from 40 percent in 2001 and 38 percent in 2009).

The increase in pro-choicers is largely attributable to people who identify as Democrats, while Republican and independent identification as pro-choice has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years. In the latest poll, 31 percent of Republicans, 50 percent of independents, and 68 percent of Democrats identified as pro-choice. 

Lest the Gallup poll be seen as something of an anomaly, recent data from Pew Research Center found similar numbers, with 51 percent of Americans saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 43 percent who said it should always or mostly be illegal. "In both cases, these figures have remained relatively stable for more than 20 years," according to Pew. A 2014 poll conducted by NARAL Pro-Choice America found 23 percent of U.S. adults surveyed think abortion is morally acceptable, and 45 percent personally oppose abotion but don't believe it should be illegal.

Another poll released by Gallup last Friday found abortion is growing in issue importance among voters; 21 percent now say they will only vote for candidates who share their beliefs about abortion, a record high in Gallup's 19 years of asking the question. This attitude might be a reaction to the record number of abortion restrictions passed at the state level in recent years, making politicians' abortion views seem more relevant. A January 2015 poll from Gallup found support for abortion policies in the U.S. at the lowest level since 2001

As The Christian Science Monitor points out, recent decisions in federal courts have been largely unfriendly to Republican-backed abortion restrictions. Last week, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arkansas law banning abortion after 12 weeks pregnancy and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 20-week ban in Iowa. In March, a federal judge ruled Wisconsin's law requiring abortion doctors get admitting privileges at local hospitals to be unconstitutional, and in December a federal judge struck down a similarly unnecessary clinic regulation in Indiana. And in 2014, federal courts rejected abortion restrictions in AlabamaNorth Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas while the U.S. Supreme Court blocked key parts of a Texas abortion regulation.

At the same time, however, state legislatures continue to pass anti-abortion laws at an alarming rate. Last week, West Virginia became the latest state to ban abortion at 20 weeks pregnancy (after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the legislation in March). Wisconsin is currently considering a similar ban, with criminal penalties of $10,000 and/or a 42-month prison sentence for doctors who break the law. Oklahoma recently instituted a mandatory 72-hour waiting period between when a woman seeks an abortion and when it can be performed, and a new law in Arizona requires doctors to tell women taking the abortion pill that the procedure can be "reversed" if they act quickly. 

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  1. A BORSHUN THREAD!!!111tenplusone!!!

    1. I’d rather put a bullet in my head.

      1. Well, that should be, and is, your choice.

        1. No one’s gonna stop me?! Tough crowd.

          1. Not to make you feel worse or anything, but several people vociferously objected to Agile Cyborg’s suggestion that he commit suicide. So, now you know where you stand on the H&R Ranking of Importance.

  2. Reason Nominated for Record 18 Southern California Journalism Awards

    Does this award cover organizations that are East of the Five or just West of the Five?

    1. Whoa, how did that happen? Sorry, rt.

    I HATE YOU!!

    This thread is now closed.


      good album name

  4. As Republicans Democrats Keep Passing Abortion Restrictions Pushing Gun Restrictions, Americans Getting Increasingly Pro-Choice Pro-Gun
    It’s almost like pushing an agenda contrary to the will of the people results in a growth of that will. Something, something Newton’s Third Law or something.

    1. No one is going to ban guns but abortion bans are sought by conservatives.

    2. But the analogy is an apt one. Zealots do exist on both issues.

      1. Yeah, I wasn’t lighting your team signal, but making a point about human (if not American) nature.

  5. “Waaah!”
    “No, YOU are!”

  6. ‘Pro-choice’ identification is back up to late 1990s levels.

    Unless you count choices in deodorant

    1. Your betters will tell you your choice and you’ll like it.

  7. I feel unsafe.

    No; wait, that’s Robby.

  8. Wow. 37% of pro-lifers think that a mother should be forced to let her unborn child kill her, in those rare, dangerous cases. That’s harsh.

  9. Oklahoma recently instituted a mandatory 72-hour waiting period between when a woman seeks an abortion and when it can be performed

    Jesus, it’s not like she’s buying a gun!

    1. Next thing they’ll want to do a background check on her.

      1. If you’re mentally ill, or have been convicted of a felony, you can’t have an abortion.

  10. I feel abortion.

  11. So for lunch I heated up some pastrami, stuck it on a kaiser bun, sprinkled cole slaw on top, and drizzled russian dressing over it all. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a Capastrami. More’s the pity.

    Any recommendations for what bread would work better?

    1. I don’t know what a capastrami is, but I’d use rye

      1. It’s probably got a mixture of ham capiccola & pastrami.

        Bun’s not at fault, it’s the Russian dressing. Hot mustard next time.

      1. Dadblame it! I almost got rye, too!

        If “marbled rye” is unavailable, do I use Brooklyn Rye, Jewish Rye, or Russian Rye?

        1. Pumpernickel!

    2. Any hearty, country-style bread would work wonders especially if it was toasted. Any light, floofy style should be shunned like Dunphy.

      1. On a side note, I just figured out the name for my new band. Anyone want to be a drummer for “Shunned like Dunphy”?

        1. Having been “burned” before, I feel the need to ask why you are in need of a drummer?

          /Gary Wallis

          1. Our last drummer spontaneously combusted. Really weird, huh?

    3. I forgot to add that I also have a bag of Cape Cod brand kettle cooked tater chips, sea salt & vinegar flavored. It’s the best accessory to that sandwich.

      1. Having finished the sandwich, I am now enjoying some Keebler “Simply Made” Chocolate Chip Cookies. Surprisingly good for packaged cookies. Not quite Pepperidge Farm, but, really, pretty good. I daresay they’re better than Famous Amos

        1. …now I want cookies.

  12. “You know what would be awesome? An abortion thread.” – no one ever

    1. This is one of the few topics where the commentariat isn’t all on the same page. It’s a beautiful thing.

      1. Ordinarily I would agree but is there really anything new to say about this topic?

  13. Now if only people could extend this concept of “choice” to other things. It’s to the point where choice and abortion are synonyms. One time I had an extremely confusing conversation with a woman about school choice. She thought I mean abortions in schools.

    1. The progs #1 tactic seems to be redefining words

      1. This. I was just about to start my own comment concerning the real reason I hate the abortion debate: the accepted nomenclature for each side are both designed for maximum demagoguery.

        Why can’t the media just use pro- and anti-abortion? Instead we get bombarded by bullshit like, “YOU DON’T SUPPORT A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE, YOU MONSTER” and, “WHY DO YOU WANT TO MURDER BABIES??”

    2. “Are you pro school choice?”

      “No, kids should not be allowed to have abortions in schools!”

      Is that how it went down?

      1. I don’t remember specifics. In the end when she finally figured out that I supported parents and students having a choice about which school to go to, she fucking flipped out. Apparently the word “choice” can only be used for abortion, because all other choices are to be made for you by government.

    3. It’s been that way at least 20 yrs., probably 30, that “choice” has been a synonym for many for abortions. 40 yrs. ago the words “choice” & “life” were chosen, but it took a while for them to lose all other meanings. The only thing that saves “life” to some degree in policy discussion is that it still gets used as an alternative to “death” for crime.

  14. I’m curious as to how the breakdown of “legal/illegal in X circumstances” maps to a global self-identification as pro/anti.

    IOW, to me, somebody who says “illegal in all/most circumstances” (which tallies a 54% majority of adults) is the “pro-lifers”, and the legal is all/most circumstances” (42%) is the “pro-choicers”.

    I think it shows the social signaling power of the “pro-choice” label that 23% of self-identified pro-choicers think abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances. That’s the majority position of self-identified pro-lifers, and consistent with the carve-outs for rape and incest.

    1. 23% of self-identified pro-choicers think abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances

      It’s not really a choice if only a very small percentage of the population will be allowed to make it. “I’m pro-choice, but only for the couple percent of pregnant women who were raped or have life-threatening complications.”

      1. Exactly.

        When the “legal in only a few circumstances” question gets a plurality of all adults, a majority of pro-life and nearly a quarter of pro-choice, I’m kinda thinking those labels are pretty useless.

  15. How many of those supposed 50% calling themselves pro-choice with the full implication that virtually any abortion, for any reason must be legal? Or are they on the less restructive side of the spectrum than they think someone calling themselves pro-life is?

    1. So, you’re saying you didn’t RTFA.

      1. Is that a requirement, or something?

        1. Not really.

  16. I think allowing early abortions and banning late-terms is exactly what the vast majority of Americans want.

  17. What’s with the sharp spike in pro-life circa 2009?

    1. Because that’s when Obama became President, and people realized that if his mother had an abortion (wasn’t she 19 and unmarried when she got knocked up?) the planet would have missed out on the most wonderful human being ever.

      1. The subsequent increase in “pro-choice” self-identification is a result of people actually having to live under Pres. Obama’s governance, and realizing that, had his mother had an abortion…

  18. Just scrolling by and I knew this had to be an ENB post.

  19. If you are pro-life and don’t allow any exceptions for say the life of the mother or rape you are a monster. If you do allow exceptions you are pro-choice.

    1. If you set up ridiculous false dilemmas most likely you’ve never seen a female naked. Works in this case.

      1. Pregnancy from rape is a false dilemma?

    2. Sorry, IceTrey, but allowing a few exceptions means you are in favor of a ban, with a few exceptions. That doesn’t sound like “pro-choice” to me.

      Really, this survey does little more than illustrate how useless the labels are.

      1. Allowing exceptions is giving those women a choice.

    3. I’ve never understood why abortion in the case of rape is considered to be reasonable by some pro-life supporters. Killing the baby won’t magically un-rape the mother; the damage already has been done. And why should the baby be executed for the rapist’s crime? Execute the rapist and let the baby live; THAT would be justice.

      1. That requires you to force the mother to carry to term which violates the first rule of libertarianism.

  20. What button do I click for “legal under any circumstances up to 20 weeks gestational age” AND “legal in only a few circumstances” afterward?

    1. I think that is the “cop out” button.

    2. Pro-choice.

  21. You’re looking at no significant change since 1998, with possibly a slight difference over 2008-14. I’d be surprised to see these twice-yearly samplings reveal anything interesting when the long term is flat.

    What’s more interesting is what happened 1996-8. What do you suppose could’ve caused a change like that?

  22. I’m guessing the pro-life libertarians aren’t so welcome round these parts?

    1. Apparently not. If more libertarian candidates were pro-life then I’d vote for more libertarians. But I won’t vote under any circumstances for a candidate who supports abortion, even if that candidate agrees 100% with me on every other issue (as libertarians often do). No doubt that statement will make me a pariah around here but I really don’t care.

      1. So if the mother is going to die unless an unviable fetus is aborted you’d let her die.

  23. The most interesting aspect of the life/choice debate today is the large and growing number of Americans who identify themselves as BOTH “pro-life” AND “pro-choice”. One recent poll found that fully 43% of respondents chose both labels for themselves, indicating that they consider fetuses to be live human persons (hence “pro-life”) but favor the right to abort them anyway (hence also “pro-choice”). Thus, abortion, when it is performed at the request of the womb’s owner (which is the pregnant woman) is increasingly seen as a form of justifiable homicide.

  24. If I’ve learned nothing else in my 40+ years as a pro-choice OB/GYN, it’s that polls regarding abortion are totally meaningless. The hypocrisy is astonishing. A vast segment of the so-called “pro-life” crowd are among the first in line having abortions when it’s they who encounter an unplanned pregnancy. I’ve seen this many, many times.

  25. robc’s 2 sigma rule.

    If in a general argument you bring up exceptions outside 2 sigmas of the norm, you are an idiot.

    Apply as necessary.

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