Half of Pro-Choice Americans Favor Restrictions on Abortion, Poll Finds

Nearly half of self-described pro-choice Americans actually support “significant restrictions” on abortion, a new poll finds.

Marist Poll’s annual survey on abortion, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, found that 40% of those surveyed identified as pro-life and 55% as pro-choice, with 5% undecided.

But when the question was rephrased to ask whether those surveyed would support “significant restrictions” on abortion, 7 in 10 responded that they would. This included 47% of pro-choicers.

“A notable proportion (41%) of those who identify as pro-choice are more likely to vote for candidates who support restrictions, as are more than 9 in 10 who identify as pro-life (96%),” the survey summary says. 

“What is clear is that when someone says they’re pro-life, they are overwhelmingly likely to support restrictive legislation—but the term ‘choice’ is just too broad,” Andrew Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization, said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

“The problem with reporting along pro-life and pro-choice lines is it forces the issue into a false binary,” Walther said.

Marist Poll also found that a majority are pro-life on specific issues, with 60% opposed to taxpayer funding of abortion, 76% opposed to funding abortion in other countries, and 65% opposed to the legal aborting of children with Down syndrome. 

Each of these data points includes a large percentage of adults who generally identify as pro-choice, the pollster said.

The poll found that nearly 40% of pro-choice respondents said they believe that the states should decide restrictions on abortion, compared with 57% of pro-life respondents.

As usual, the findings were released days before the annual March for Life, held by pro-life activists to protest the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion on demand.

“The fact that such large numbers of Americans who identify as pro-choice nevertheless support restrictions and the revisiting of Roe v. Wade shows how misleading it is to conflate the term ‘pro-choice’ with support for radically pro-abortion position that calls for unrestricted abortion,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said in a press release.

Differing understandings of the meaning of “choice” helps explain the amount of support for abortion restrictions from pro-choice Americans, Barbara Carvalho, director of Marist Poll, said during the conference call. 

“Polling forces people into one of two sides,” Carvalho said. “We have actually presented people [with whom] we are speaking with very specific issues, so we are able to discern what they mean when they say ‘pro-choice.’”

“It is very hard to overstate the nuance in the pro-choice label, to the extent that it has almost lost its meaning,” Walther of the Knights of Columbus said. “Pro-choice runs the gamut from abortion on demand to legal but very restrictive.”

The poll, conducted through interviews with 1,237 adults, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7%.