The political dynamic in the United States is that a small group of elites, the Supreme Court, has to read the tea leaves of the Constitution and extract imputed rights out of it that include the right to abortion, to prevent the several states from enacting laws forbidding abortion.

I don't understand why this necessary. Why are the states so hell bent on banning abortion? Are we just talking about a handful of states here, or most of them? Since half the voters are women, how come they don't all oppose state laws banning abortion? I guess I don't understand where the support for state abortion bills is coming from. People talk about "evangelicals", but from what I hear only 15% of the population now is evangelical. So, I don't understand how this 15% of the population threatens to ban abortion in all of the states.

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    Your question includes a few incorrect assumptions, such as women would be automatically pro-choice. In fact the percentage of women who are pro-life only slightly lower than the percentage of men who are pro-life: news.gallup.com/poll/244709/…
    – GendoIkari
    Dec 8, 2021 at 22:52
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    Please don’t debate abortion in the comments.
    – divibisan
    Dec 8, 2021 at 23:59
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    You appear to be ranting against abortion and the Supreme Court, making this a push question. Such questions are off topic here. Dec 9, 2021 at 15:14
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    The phrasing is quite awkward and some emotially loaded terms are being used (tea leaves, elites). But I've still upvoted it because it seems important to know the level of popular, not legislative or political, demand for abortion restrictions/prohibition by state. Is this a demand made by many Americans in Texas or Mississippi? This is what Pence seems to be saying here: "Americans are ready for an end to the judicial tyranny of Roe v Wade," Dec 10, 2021 at 2:08
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    @TylerDurden good questions can get bad answers, and bad questions can get good answers. The two are completely unrelated. Dec 10, 2021 at 14:09

5 Answers 5


This question is based on a false assumption: that there is strong support for banning abortion in the US. In fact, according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, 59% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 39% against.

According to this data, there's a very small gender gap (only 6% points) and race and age don't have a large effect too. The main dividers seem to be partisanship, with a 45% gap in support between Republicans and Democrats and religion, with 77% of White Evangelicals opposing abortion, compared to 37% for non-evangelicals, 43% for Catholics and 16% for Unaffiliated people.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

These 2 factors are, obviously, strongly linked, so it's hard to say what, exactly, is the main driver. It's clear, though, that there isn't strong support for banning abortion in the US – there's strong support from Republicans which is driven by the outsize influence that Evangelicals have over Republican party policy.

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    I am not sure that it is a wrong assumption that the question is based on a wrong assumption. 59% support for abortion rights is much lower than the global average, that is 70% according to the study linked at ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/…
    – user000001
    Dec 9, 2021 at 11:35
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    @user000001 That IPSOS study includes only 25 countries. Unless that selection of countries was part of a well-constructed cluster random sampling strategy, one can't call it a "global average". And I don't think it was part of a well-constructed cluster random sampling strategy: if it were, the probability of China, Indonesia, and Pakistan all being off the list (as they in fact are) would be vanishingly small. Dec 9, 2021 at 12:13
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    @DanielHatton The IPSOS study appears to be of western democracies, which are assumed to be similar to the US in many ways. So what that points out is that we're out of step with our peers. Comparing with China, Indonesia, and Pakistan would be apples vs. oranges.
    – Barmar
    Dec 11, 2021 at 0:17
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    Whether there is strong popular support or not, there is pretty clearly strong legislative support for banning abortion considering the number of times laws against it are written. The dichotomy between popular and legislative support is part of the question.
    – Jontia
    Dec 11, 2021 at 6:48

It depends on how you define "ban".

Gallup polls on the issue show a country equally divided (within the margin of error) between "pro-choice" and "pro-life" camps since the late 1990's.

chart of "pro-choice" versus "pro-life" identity

Though, when given a three-way choice between total legality, total illegality, and a compromise "under certain circumstances" option, a plurality of people choose the compromise option.

"legal only under certain circumstances" trend

But what circumstances are those, exactly?

According to the same article, a majority of Americans (in the most recent poll) believe that abortion should be legal:

  • In the first trimester of pregnancy (60%)
  • When the woman's life is endangered (83%/75% for first/third trimester)
  • When the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest (77%/52%)

should not be legal:

  • In the second (65%) or third (81%) trimester of pregnancy
  • When the woman does not want the child for any reason (53%/77% for first/third trimester)

and legal only early in pregnancy for:

  • When the child would be born mentally disabled (56% legal first trimester / 61% illegal third trimester)
  • When the child would be born with a life-threatening illness (67%/49%)
  • When the child would be born with Down Syndrome (49%/68%)

Now, let's look at statistics on abortions performed in the US, and see how many would have been legal if it were put up to a national popular vote.

According to the CDC (2019):

A total of 629,898 abortions for 2019 were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. Among 48 reporting areas with data each year during 2010–2019, in 2019, a total of 625,346 abortions were reported, the abortion rate was 11.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 195 abortions per 1,000 live births [i.e., there were 3.23 million live births]. ...

During 2010–2019, the percentage of abortions performed at >13 weeks’ gestation remained consistently low (≤9.0%). In 2019, the highest proportion of abortions were performed by surgical abortion at ≤13 weeks’ gestation (49.0%), followed by early medical abortion at ≤9 weeks’ gestation (42.3%), surgical abortion at >13 weeks’ gestation (7.2%), and medical abortion at >9 weeks’ gestation (1.4%); all other methods were uncommon (<0.1%).

IOW, 91.3% of abortions (surgical + medical) are performed in the first trimester. So a ban on second and third trimester abortions would affect only 8.7% (around 55,000) of them.

However, a different picture is painted when we look at abortions by reason:

According to the Guttmacher Institute (2004) (sorry, I can't find more recent data right now), the breakdown of abortions by most important reason for having them (Table 3, page 114 in linked document) are:

  • Not ready for a(nother) child/timing is wrong: 25%
  • Can’t afford a baby now: 23%
  • Have completed my childbearing/have other people depending on me/children are grown: 19%
  • Don’t want to be a single mother/am having relationship problems: 8%
  • Would interfere with education or career plans: 4%
  • Physical problem with my health: 4%
  • Possible problems affecting the health of the fetus: 3%
  • Was a victim of rape: <0.5%
  • Husband or partner wants me to have an abortion: <0.5%
  • Parents want me to have an abortion: <0.5%
  • Don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant: <0.5%
  • Other: 6%

"Health" reasons (maternal and fetal combined) account for a mere 7% of abortions. And rape is less than half of a percent. IOW, at least 92.5% of abortions are not for the "hard cases" in which there is overwhelming support for legality. And it is these abortions which are at stake in the debate.

Also note that many of the restrictions that states have been enacting enjoy widespread popular support. From the same Gallup article linked earlier, a majority would favor:

  • A law requiring women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours before having the procedure done (69%)
  • A law requiring women under 18 to get parental consent for any abortion (71%)
  • A law banning "partial birth abortion" except in cases necessary to save the life of the mother (64%)
  • A law requiring doctors to inform patients about certain possible risks of abortion before performing the procedure (87%)
  • A law requiring women seeking an abortion to be shown an ultrasound image of her fetus at least 24 hours before the procedure (50%)
  • A law requiring that the husband of a married woman be notified if she decides to have an abortion (64%)
  • A law requiring doctors to inform patients about alternatives to abortion before performing the procedure (88%)

So, although only 19% of Americans support a complete ban on abortion, a majority do want significant restrictions on the practice.

  • I don't see this answer as being fully transparent. Yes, "From the same Gallup article linked earlier, a majority would favor." However, the restrictions planned in Mississippi and Texas go far beyond those relatively benign interventions and restrictions. Likewise, countries with abortion bans tend to allow exceptions in the case of rape, incest and medical risk to pregnant women, so those would tend to remain available no matter what and are not necessarily what pro-choice supporters are worried about. Seems like a bit of bait and switch on the definitions to show wider support. Dec 10, 2021 at 20:47
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    There are stronger argument. Mississippi shows 59% for limiting abortions, 36% against limiting it. That's, at least the state level, fairly broad support for banning in the sense of this question, with no need to fiddle with definitions. Dec 10, 2021 at 20:52

Rather than looking at "all the states", it seems best to assess support in the states that are pursuing sweeping abortion restrictions. A national level poll showing widespread pro-choice support says little about pro-life sentiment within a particular state.

Taking the specific instance of Mississippi, which is the case currently making its way down the court, in a Pew Research 2014 poll 59% were in favor of making it mostly illegal, while 36% were in favor of keeping it mostly legal :

These numbers are high but Mississippi is quite conservative and religious so they likely reflect actual sentiment, if of a possibly uncertain nature.


enter image description here

I suspect that a sizable proportion of anti-abortion poll respondents, besides people who are militantly against it, probably want to limit "frivolous abortions", i.e. "those other people get should be limited, but those me and mine had to get were necessary".

Given that the US abortion discourse is extremely polarized, to the point where there is little pro-choice give on things like very late term abortions (despite them being both statistically insignificant and morally extremely dubious), it is easy for pro-life activists to paint pretty much all abortions as bad.

There is US precedent in the US for this of goal-shifting, the 18th amendment:

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

This was fairly open-ended, and "bad liquor" was prohibited, which was a popular enough move, or at least did manage to pass as a law. However, what was not expected is how broad the restrictions were going to be, because that was left out later interpretation in the Volstead act. General disagreement with the extreme severity of that regulation then led to widespread scofflaws.

The act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage containing 0.5% or more[10] alcohol by volume and superseded all existing prohibition laws in effect in states that had such legislation. This extremely low limit on allowed alcohol content, banning wine and beer, took many around the country by surprise, even Prohibition supporters.

At at state level, while I have thought in the past that actually passing, rather than agitating for, a full-on abortion ban would be political suicide for Republicans, once it took effect ("this isn't what I voted for"), this 59% proportion is making me reconsider. Instead of voting out their representatives, it might very well that Democratic/pro-choice voters would leave the state, leaving Republicans fully in charge. And this pattern may play out differently in a declining state like Mississippi rather than a booming state like Texas.

Which might make it a more attractive strategy than might be expected from national-level polling.


Although they are top of the list, it isn't only evangelicals, but also people of other religious categories.

enter image description here

The above comes from a detailed 2007-2014 poll from Pew Research, which is the recommended starting place. There is an extensive section on abortion, though I'm not sure it will help answer the question more so than looking at geographic distribution of religious faith in general.

There is also more up-to-date data on US religious views and prayer habits, as the religion survey became incorporated into Pew's wider ranging "American Trends Panel". This data has white evangelicals at 16-17%, which is closer to the 15% cited in the question. Of note, in the 2019-2020 surveys, somewhere between 44% and 49% of US adults reported they pray daily -- something that correlated with anti-abortion views in the 2007-2014 survey.

Two other demographic twists that could be interesting to look for, to explain the disconnect in the political result from the overall national poll numbers:

  • the possibility of higher voter turnout among more religious groups, although I could not easily find stats on that
  • the effect of age, which correlates with being more conservative (but how about more religious??), and simultaneously more likely to vote.

Lastly, at the political level, I suspect conservatives are more effectively organized in the US. In particular, the Federalist Society has produced a majority of current Supreme Court justices, and a great many judges in federal courts.


There's a few things wrong with your logic. First, you may be correct that only 15% of the national population is evangelical, but that percentage is much higher in some states than in others. Alabama doesn't care what Californians think about abortion.

Second, you don't have to be religious to be pro-life; I'm an atheist and pro-life.

Third, just like how not all men are pro-life, not all women are pro-choice.

Fourth, I'm not aware of any state proposing a total ban on abortion. Even the much-maligned bill in Texas isn't a total ban, so the support you're seeing for it is less extreme than you seem to believe. They support limiting abortion, not banning it entirely.

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    You don't have to be, but it helps.
    – Barmar
    Dec 11, 2021 at 0:20
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    I think your fourth point is wrong. There are a number of states with trigger laws that would ban all abortions if Roe were repealed. As long as Roe is in effect, they just try to extend the scope of their abortion laws.
    – Barmar
    Dec 11, 2021 at 0:21
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    And Texas SB8 practically bans all abortions, since 8 weeks is before most women know they're pregnant. About the only way to get an abortion before this is with the Plan B pill (which isn't really an abortion, it prevents implantation in the first place, but pro-lifers would probably ban it if they could).
    – Barmar
    Dec 11, 2021 at 0:24
  • @Barmar: Nitpick: The gestation cutoff in SB8 is 6 weeks, not 8.
    – dan04
    Dec 14, 2021 at 22:09

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