Poll: Majority of Americans say they approve of restrictions on abortion

In the wake of the Supreme Court striking down a Texas abortion law June 27, a new Marist Poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus finds that Americans strongly support abortion restrictions.

Paired with their opposition to the court decision, "strong majorities also oppose taxpayer funding, support the right of conscientious objectors to opt out of abortions, and would generally limit the procedure to—at most—the first trimester," the poll said.

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"The American people have spoken clearly on their desire for abortion restrictions, less taxpayer funding of it, and common sense regulations on this industry to protect women's health," said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson, in a news release. "Our courts, politicians, candidates and parties should heed this consensus."

Results of the poll, released July 25, showed that the number of those who support of abortion restrictions has remained consistent.

"The majority of Americans in favor of abortion restrictions has been consistently around 8 in 10 for the better part of a decade," said Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York. "Though self-identification as pro-life or 'pro-choice' can vary substantially from year to year, the support for restrictions is quite stable."

Though 51 percent of Americans say they are "pro-choice," the new poll showed again that about 8 in 10 Americans support substantial restrictions on abortion and would limit it to be performed within the first three months of pregnancy. This includes 62 percent of those who identify as "pro-choice," 85 percent of African-American and 84 percent of Latinos.

Andrew Walther, vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, noted that the findings from the poll provided a stark contrast with the Supreme Court's ruling.

"I think the poll shows very clearly that Americans continue to have a very clear and large consensus in favor of restrictions on abortion," he told Catholic News Service. "The majority of Americans have a thinking that is substantially different from what the Supreme Court ruled here this summer in terms of the Texas case. … I think Americans disagree with the reasoning in that case."

In its 5-3 decision, this high court struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The court said the law place "a substantial obstacle" in the path of women seeking an abortion and constituted an undue burden on abortion access, which violates the Constitution.

The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, challenged a 2013 state law, H.B. 2, placing the requirements on the state's abortion clinics. Opponents of the law claimed the requirements were aimed at closing abortion clinics. But the state and many pro-life advocates maintained that the law protected women's health.

Americans want doctors to be required to have hospital admitting privileges, Walther said. "And Americans think that abortion clinics should be subject to the same regulations as any other patient surgery center. The American people's mind is not in the same place as the court's reasoning."

Walther suggested people "look beyond" the label of "pro-choice" when it comes to the debate over abortion restrictions.

"I think that we attach certain meaning to labels when we assume that 'pro-choice' means that someone is for abortion all the time," he said. "The numbers tell a very different story. ... I think that people need to start looking past the label because the self-identification, because the real story is where people stand on the actual issues. What do they want is policy ... laws that are generally described as pro-life."

The poll showed that 70 percent of Americans want doctors who perform abortions to be required to have hospital admitting privileges. This includes 71 percent of women, 77 percent of millennials and 78 percent of Latinos.

In other key findings:

• 62 percent said they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion. This includes 65 percent of African-Americans, 61 percent of Latinos and 45 percent of those who say they are "pro-choice," as well as 84 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of Independents and 44 percent of Democrats.

• By almost 20 percentage points, a majority of Americans (56 percent to 37 percent) do not believe that health care providers should be forced to perform abortions against their conscience or religious beliefs. This includes 6 in 10 Latinos (61 percent) and 4 in 10 who identify as "pro-choice" (41 percent).

The Marist Institute for Public Opinion surveyed 1,009 adults July 5-12, 2016. Adults age 18 years and older living in the continental United States were interviewed on either landline or mobile phones in English using live interviewers. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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