< Most Americans Want to Keep Abortion Rights with Some Limits
By Gregory Stachel
07 December 2021

Recent arguments before the United States Supreme Court signaled that the more conservative justices may greatly limit abortion rights in the U.S.

The decision on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban will decide if the court's former rulings on abortion, including Roe v. Wade, will remain.

If the court upholds Mississippi's law, it means individual states will be able to legislate abortion laws.

Abortion rights supporters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Abortion rights supporters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

In 2020, The Associated Press found that 69 percent of voters in the presidential election said the Supreme Court should leave Roe v. Wade in place. Just 29 percent said the court should overturn the decision.

While Americans will likely not know the high court's ruling until June, here is where public opinion stands on abortion:

Big picture

Overall, when asking Americans if abortion should be legal or illegal, a majority of Americans side with abortion rights.

In June, a study by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 57 percent of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. It found that 43 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. Few Americans think abortion should be either legal or illegal in all cases.

Americans were also asked if abortion should be permitted if the woman's or the child's health is seriously at risk, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Most Americans say abortions should be permitted in those cases, including majorities of conservatives. The Mississippi law makes few exceptions in the case of medical emergencies or a severe "abnormality" in the child.

But support for abortion rights greatly decreases for a woman who does not want to be pregnant "for any reason." About half of Americans think abortion should be permitted in that case.

A matter of time

The court's former decisions, known as precedents, have given states the ability to restrict abortion rights after the point where a fetus could survive without the mother, or about 23 weeks.

In last week's argument, Chief Justice John Roberts said a 15-week ban is not far from 23 weeks. He asked, "if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?"

Similar to support for abortion rights, the AP-NORC Center study showed a clear majority of Americans, 61 percent, said abortion in the first trimester should be legal in all or most cases.

However, a majority of 54 percent said abortion in the third trimester should always be illegal and another 26 percent said it should usually be illegal.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says there are three trimesters in pregnancy. The first trimester lasts through 13 weeks and six days. The second is from 14 to 27 weeks and six days. And the third trimester starts at 28 weeks – that is the time when the fetus's weight increases and the organs begin to grow.

Leave it to the states?

During arguments last week, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of three new conservatives appointed by former President Donald Trump, also questioned if the court should be involved in the abortion issue.

"Why should this court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures, state supreme courts, the people being able to resolve this?" Kavanaugh asked. "And there will be different answers in Mississippi and New York, different answers in Alabama than California."

Guttmacher Institute is a research organization that supports abortion rights. It says abortion would soon become illegal or severely restricted in around half of the states if precedents are overturned. Legislatures in many Republican-led states are ready for action depending on the Supreme Court's ruling.

I'm Gregory Stachel.

Hannah Fingerhut reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

abortion n. a medical procedure used to end a pregnancy and cause the death of the fetus

uphold – v. to judge (a legal decision) to be correct: to decide not to change (a verdict)

incest n. sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related

abnormality – n. something that is not usual, expected, or normal: something that is abnormal

trimester – n. one of three periods into which a woman's pregnancy is often divided

arbiter – n. a person who has the power to settle an argument between people

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