A little over a week has passed since Politico broke news of a Supreme Court leak indicating a likely overturning of Roe v. Wade. The media focus has been intense, with all the likely outlets insisting that the majority of Americans unswervingly support Roe.
But numbers can be deceiving—or, worse, can be used for the purpose of deception. The American Enterprise Institute’s Timothy Carney has argued effectively that most Americans don’t, in fact, favor unlimited abortion access, and also don’t really understand what Roe is or what it does. “Most people say they support Roe v. Wade,” writes Carney, “but that’s because most people don’t know what Roe did, and they don’t know what overturning it would mean.” He continues: “Poll questions on Roe v. Wade often don’t describe the ruling’s effects. Often they mischaracterize them. … They typically say Roe ‘legalized abortion,’ implying that overturning it would outlaw all abortion.”
Overturning Roe, the majority of Americans seems to believe, would mean making all abortion illegal across the country. What most don’t understand is that overturning Roe would allow decisions concerning abortion to revert to the states, where such decisions belong. If you want proof of how divided the U.S. is on abortion, take a look at this chart by the Guttmacher Institute outlining abortion restrictions by state. Six states have no limit on abortion, many others use 20 or 24 weeks as the cut-off, and 20 use the slippery and ever-changing “viability.” Texas (and now Oklahoma as well) use the detection of fetal cardiac activity as the limit of legal abortion—somewhere around 6 weeks.
In other words, as indicated by their voting record at least, Americans are still pretty divided about whether abortion should be legal, under what circumstances, and how late into the pregnancy. Carney offers compelling evidence that only about 18% of Americans want unlimited access to abortion up until the moment of birth. More recent surveys by the Pew Research Center agree, with only one in five Americans stating that they believe there should be “no limits” on abortion access. Carney also offers survey data indicating that most Americans support a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion, and also support requiring that abortions be performed only by licensed physicians with nearby hospital admitting privileges. A majority also agree that practitioners should show the mother an ultrasound before she can obtain an abortion. All of these measures indicate that Americans have a more nuanced and cautious view toward abortion than pro-abortion advocates would have us believe.
The continuous media cry that “most Americans support Roe” is simply untrue, and deserves to be called out for the lie that it is. Most Americans don’t understand Roe, unfortunately, but do in fact believe that abortion is a grave and serious thing that should at some point in a pregnancy become illegal.