What is the abortion debate in the US really about? It seems to me that there are two completely different issues which are being constantly mixed/misrepresented in the public debate:

  1. Legality of abortion - some religious people think that abortion should be (completely) illegal. My guess is that this represent a minority of the US voters, and even minority of the religious or right-wing electorate.
  2. Conflict between the women's right to choose and the right to life, which is really about setting the term limit on how late one can carry out abortion "on-demand" (i.e., not necessitated by medical conditions). Here the late-term abortions become an issue.

Both political parties seem to pretend to be fighting the hardcore extremists in regard to one option, while respectively pushing through the hardcore version of the other option... with disastrous results for the majority of women, who arguably would like to have the opportunity to resort to abortion, without necessarily waiting until the 24th week of pregnancy.

Thus, the Dobbs vs. Jackson case was really about bringing the abortion term down to 15 weeks, which is rather close to what is considered normal elsewhere (i.e., essentially about issue #2), but eventually resulted in putting into question the right to abortion in general (issue #1).


In most developed countries the abortion terms are rather "conservative":

As of 2011 among those countries that allowed abortion without restriction as to reason, the gestational limits for such abortions on request were: 37 countries set a gestational limit of 12 weeks, 7 countries of 14 weeks, 4 did not set limits, 3 at viability, 3 at 10 weeks, one at 90 days, one at 8 weeks, one at 18 weeks, and one at 24 weeks. In addition, Abortion in Australia, and, to a certain extent, Abortion in the United States, is regulated at state/territory level, and laws vary by region.

As an example one can take France:

Abortion in France is legal on demand during the first 14 weeks from conception.1 Abortions at later stages of pregnancy are allowed if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.

Note that the legal restriction comes after the 11th week ultrasound exam, where the serious health anomalies of fetus are detected with high certainty, giving time to make a decision.

At the same time, children born after 24 weeks from conception are considered viable, and requiring all the necessary medical care to survive.

To restate the question more precisely: what is the opinion of the majority of Americans (specifically American women) regarding the two issues? How are the positions promoted by the two parties align with this opinion - i.e., do the Democratic strive for on-demand late term abortion or the Republican attempts at prohibiting the abortion really serve the majority, even the majority of their voters?

I am essentially looking for the analysis of this political situation, based on the opinion polls, the positions of the parties as stated by their major representatives and/or party plateforms, etc.

  • 2
    The para before the "background" is indeed correct that the SCOTUS [in 2022] went beyond what might have been at stake in that case and declared that there's no constitutional right to abortion whatsoverver (at any week basically, although I think they didn't even bother discussing such "minutia"--unlike what Roe had done). Roberts attempted a compromise recognizing just the legality of Miss. law, but the more originalist justices overruled him and ruled out any abortion right whatsoever as being protected by the constitution. Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 11:36
  • FYI: the Netherlands has laws/limits that more closely resemble Roe. Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 12:00
  • And if the BBC is correct on this, the actual law that goes into effect in Mississippi is an older "trigger" law that would ban more than the one under direct scrutiny in Dobbs bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-62059114 Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 3:28

1 Answer 1


The electorate of the US has held two contradictory views on Abortion.

Legal vs Illegal

Roe came up with the arbitrary "trimester" system and legalized abortion through 24 weeks (the second trimester, or 6 months). The problem is that most people do not know those are two separate issues. Democrats (generally pro-abortion), their goal has been to sell Roe as an all-or-nothing proposition. It wasn't hard, given that US polling consistently shows more support for legal abortion (from 2019)

As debates over abortion continue in states around the country, a majority of Americans (61%) continue to say that abortion should be legal in all (27%) or most (34%) cases. A smaller share of the public (38%) says abortion should be illegal in all (12%) or most cases (26%).

Their graph probably hasn't changed all that much either

Breakdown by party

Legal Spectrum

The problem for the binary options above is that abortion is really more of a spectrum. If we consider support on a week-by-week basis (with "None" as an option), we find support for abortion is highest in the first trimester (12-15 weeks), even amongst people who said they would like to keep Roe, which legalized it through 24 weeks. From a 2022 Pew Poll

Americans are more divided about what should be permitted 14 weeks into a pregnancy – roughly at the end of the first trimester – although still, more people say abortion should be legal at this stage (34%) than illegal (27%), and about one-in-five say “it depends.”

Fewer adults say abortion should be legal 24 weeks into a pregnancy – about when a healthy fetus could survive outside the womb with medical care. At this stage, 22% of adults say abortion should be legal, while nearly twice as many (43%) say it should be illegal. Again, about one-in-five adults (18%) say whether abortion should be legal at 24 weeks depends on other factors.

Respondents who said that abortion should be illegal 24 weeks into a pregnancy or that “it depends” were asked a follow-up question about whether abortion at that point should be legal if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or the baby would be born with severe disabilities. Most who received this question say abortion in these circumstances should be legal (54%) or that it depends on other factors (40%). Just 4% of this group maintained that abortion should be illegal in this case.

How the parties stack up

From the last Pew link there's this graph, with a partisan breakdown at the bottom

Abortion breakdown 2022

If we throw in their "It depends" category as at least allowing abortion in some form, 54% of Republicans favor legality at 6 weeks, while 85% of Democrats favor it. When we hit 24 weeks, however, there's a marked shift with only 27% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats favoring it. Another poll from 2021 (no partisan breakdowns) found 80% of Americans view third trimester abortion unfavorably.

So overall, Republicans who favor bans before 12 weeks or so are out of step with their party. Democrats have also been out of step with the Women's Health Protection Act, which was sold as a way to codify Roe. The bill would legalize abortion at all stages of pregnancy

It also would prohibit restrictions on abortion after fetal viability "when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health."

Mental health would be an acceptable reason for a third trimester abortion (i.e. no hard medical reasoning would be necessary). It would also invalidate laws like parental notification (the 2022 Pew poll found generally 57% of Democrats favor such laws).

  • 1
    Thanks, this is well researched. I would be also interested in the positions of the key political figures and party plateforms. My naïve impression is that Democrats have ducked the issue of term limits or took extreme positions on it, thus unintentionally bringing to court the Dobbs vs. Jackson case (which in itself was about a rather moderate term restriction - along the lines of what most Americans want).
    – Morisco
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 16:53
  • Nitpick: Isn't 6 months 26 weeks, not 24?
    – dan04
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 4:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .