September 25, 2022
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Majority of Americans think Supreme Court overturning Roe was more about politics than law

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With confidence in the Supreme Court falling, more than half of Americans oppose the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and nearly six in 10 say the ruling was based more on politics than on the law, according to the latest poll from the PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist. Conducted in days following the decision, this latest poll also found that more than half of Americans are concerned that the Supreme Court will reconsider issues such as contraception and same-sex marriage.

“A majority of Americans see this as a political statement rather than a legal one,” said Barbara Carvalho, who directs the Marist Poll, adding that it is unclear whether the Supreme Court can “restore Americans’ confidence in the institution.”

Poll after poll has shown that Americans overall favored keeping Roe v. Wade intact. On Friday, the Supreme Court revoked nearly five decades of constitutional protections for abortion. In its 6-3 decision, the court’s conservative majority upheld a law in Mississippi that prohibited the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and a smaller majority signed on to strike down Roe.

roe v wade bars site

Chart by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote, sending the question of abortion legality and access back to the states.

Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults opposed the court’s decision, including 45 percent of Americans who said they were strongly opposed. On the other end of the spectrum, 28 percent said they strongly support the court’s move.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should reexamine legal questions around the right to contraception, same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriage – an outcome that 56 percent of Americans said concerns them.

Here are more key takeaways from the poll.

A majority support abortion rights

  • 55 percent of U.S. adults say they support abortion rights, including 84 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents. Gen Zers, millennials, people who live in cities, those who graduated from college and residents of Western states were among those most likely to say they support these rights.
  • 36 percent of U.S. adults say they oppose abortion rights, including 67 percent of Republicans.People who live in rural communities, white people who did not graduate from college and people who voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 were among those more likely to oppose these rights.
  • Compared to last month, when 61 percent of people said they supported abortion rights, the latest findings, mark a notable decline.

A majority think politics drove the court’s decision

  • 57 percent of U.S. adults, including nearly all Democrats and a majority of independents, say the decision to overturn Roe was mostly based on politics rather than the law.
  • 6 out of 10 women agreed with this sentiment, with stronger support among college-educated white women (67 percent) than white women who did not graduate from college (55 percent).
  • 36 percent of U.S. adults, including two-thirds of Republicans, say the court’s decision was mostly based on the law.

A majority have little to no confidence in the Supreme Court

court confidence site

Chart by Megan McGrew/ PBS NewsHour

  • 58 percent of Americans say they do not place much trust in the nation’s highest court, including most Democrats and a majority of independents.
  • That number has made a precipitous drop since February 2018, when roughly the same share of U.S. adults said they had a lot of confidence in the institution.
  • Nearly a third of Americans said they have no confidence at all in the court, a dramatic rise of 12 percentage points since May 2022, a draft majority opinion on the case was leaked to the public.
  • 39 percent of Americans feel confident in the court, including 71 percent of Republicans.

Will the Supreme Court’s action influence midterm elections?

  • 6 out of 10 Americans said the court’s decision made them more likely to vote in midterm elections this November, marking a 12-percentage point increase since last month, before federal abortion protections were officially revoked by the court’s decision.
  • Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans to say they’d vote in November as a result of Roe being overturned.
  • Those who said they were more likely to vote this fall included Gen Zers and millennials, Baby Boomers, women, residents of urban and suburban areas and people who supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential elections.
  • Another quarter of Americans said the Supreme Court’s decision will not influence their vote, including residents of the Midwest, white men and Trump’s 2020 voters.

What’s next?

For anti-abortion activists, this moment was decades and numerous state-level challenges in the making.

The court’s decisions came after “years of what we believe is the greatest human rights movement of our time,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff on Friday, adding: “In every single abortion, there are two that must be served.”

The decision marks the first time in U.S. legal history “where there’s a liberty for this many people that was taken away,” said Mary Ziegler, law professor at the University of California and author of “Dollars for Life: The Anti Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment.”

Even with the court’s decision leaked to the public in May, Ziegler said, “A lot of people didn’t expect this to happen or probably didn’t even know this was going on” and now, people may “wake up and find they can’t do things they were planning to do or were expecting to do.”

abortion big number site

Chart by Megan McGrew/ PBS NewsHour

Two-thirds of Americans say they or someone they know have had an abortion, the poll found. That includes roughly three-quarters of Democrats and independents and half of Republicans. Nearly all abortions happen during the first three months of pregnancy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which also said that women who get abortions are more likely to live in low-income households, be young, already have kids and are from communities of color.

“People suffer when access to medical care is stripped away,” Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, told journalists during a telebriefing on Friday.

More than half of all states have either already banned abortions, are poised to do so, or are committed to erecting new restrictions to prevent more people from receiving these services, according to analysis from the Guttmacher Institute. President Joe Biden called the court’s decision and its implications “cruel” and warned that it “will have real and immediate consequences.”

In eliminating a decades-old “constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station” and breaching a core legal principle of precedent, the decision “places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in dissent. They also warned that it would undermine the court’s legitimacy – a prediction borne out in these poll results.

Supporters and opponents of abortion have signaled that the debate is far from over.

“People don’t necessarily see this as a one-and-done,” said Lee Miringoff, who directs the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey June 24-25 that polled 941 U.S. adults (margin of error of 4.9 percentage points) 868 registered voters (margin of error of 5.1 percentage points)



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