Since the Supreme Court ruling Dobbs decision that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, several states enacted laws prohibiting or restricting women from having abortions.
Judge Samuel Alito, writing for the majority of the court in Dobbs, predicted that states would adopt new policies regarding abortion rights. States, he argued, would better represent their constituents’ views on abortion than federal courts have.
“It is time to respect the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected officials,” Alito wrote.
But the annulment of Roe v. Wade did not relate state abortion policies to the preferences of state residents.
Since April 2020, we have regularly questioned americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on attitudes and behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other social and political issues.
In our last survey, conducted between June 8 and July 6, 2022, we asked Americans whether or not they support abortion in nine distinct scenarios, ranging from saving a woman’s life to pregnancy caused by rape to the prevention of financial difficulties. We also asked Americans how important the issue of abortion is to them and Comparative responses provided before and after the public announcement of the Dobbs decision.
We found that instead of increasing democratic representation, Dobbs actually widened the gap between public preferences and public policy, both nationally and within many states.
Not only are state-level policies currently not aligned with state-level public opinion, but since the announcement of the Dobbs decision, Americans also seem to increasingly prefer fewer restrictions to the abortion, although many states are preparing to adopt more restrictions.
In the United States, more Americans argue than oppose abortion rights in most scenarios – including cases in which the life or health of the mother is at stake, the fetus could be born with serious health problems, pregnancy resulting from rape or the woman does not want to be pregnant. Support for abortion in all nine scenarios increased following the Dobbs decision.
We also explored whether changes to state abortion policies after Dobbs better or less reflect the views of residents of the affected states.
For example, we looked at support for abortion once the fetus can survive outside the womb – known as fetal viability – which was the previous court standard when states could ban abortion. Fewer Americans support abortion after fetal viability than in any other scenario. Even in states where there are currently no gestational limits on abortion, people are more than twice as likely to oppose abortion than support it once the fetus can survive outside. from the uterus – 46% vs. 21%.
This suggests that the court’s earlier standard of allowing states to ban post-viability abortion—established in Roe et al. Family planning c. Casey, but canceled in Dobbs – matched audience preferences in every US state. It therefore seems unlikely that the abolition of this norm will make politics more responsive as Alito claims; it was already responsive.
Insensitive policies in the wake of Dobbs
We also find that several state-level restrictions on abortion clearly conflict with public opinion in those states. For instance, seven states – Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin – currently ban abortions with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape. Four other states – Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana and Utah – have similar policies that the courts have temporarily blocked.
Yet a majority – 55% – of Americans in those 11 states support abortion when the pregnancy is caused by rape, compared to just 16% who oppose it.
Even in states with the lowest support for abortion in pregnancies caused by rape, pluralities still support abortion by more than 2 to 1. For example, in Louisiana, the state with the least support abortion in pregnancies caused by rape, 45% support abortion in these cases against 21% who oppose it.
Growing support for fewer restrictions
Prior to Dobbs, 13 US states had so-called “trigger laws” that would restrict or ban abortion access as soon as Roe was overturned. Yet, rather than finding that these laws bring state abortion policies closer to public preference, in all cases—in all nine scenarios—we found that respondents in trigger-law states became more, and no less pro-abortion following the Dobbs decision.
For example, in Texas – which immediately banned almost all abortions after Dobbs – support for abortion to save a woman’s life increased by 17 percentage points following the Dobbs judgment, while support for abortion in the event of rape increased by 12 percentage points.
Abortion politics turned upside down
Will the growing gap between politics and opinion on abortion have electoral consequences?
Our findings suggest so.
Abortion opponents have long been more likely than abortion access proponents to identify as single-issue voters; It’s for decide their vote based on a candidate’s stance on abortion.
This may change.
In our survey, respondents who view abortion as an “extremely important” issue are 11 percentage points more likely than those who do not view it as an extremely important issue to prefer that Democrats retain control of the House and the Midterm Senate in 2022. In other words, in a break from previous elections, single-issue abortion voters in 2022 could be more pro-choice than anti-abortion and, therefore, favor Democratic candidates compared to Republican candidates.
It is unclear whether this is a momentary event or an early indicator of lasting change in America’s abortion policy.
Either way, our findings clearly challenge Justice Alito’s apparent assumption that returning abortion policy to the states would improve democratic representation.