Americans (Narrowly) Support 20-Week Abortion Ban

Shane Goldmacher

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis galvanized abortion-rights supporters--and even the White House--with a dramatic filibuster of a bill that would have outlawed all abortions after 20 weeks. But the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows that a plurality of Americans supports a ban on late abortions.


Americans favor such a bill by 48 percent to 44 percent.

Support was greatest among Republicans, 59 percent in support, but 53 percent of Americans not affiliated with either major party sided with the GOP. A majority of Democrats, 59 percent, were opposed while only 33 percent were in favor.

The results come a day after Davis, the state senator, captured the imagination of liberals nationwide as she stood for 11 hours to block a Texas measure that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and placed new restrictions on abortion clinics. In Washington, Democrats have lampooned House Republicans for passing a similar ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy as the latest shot fired in the “war on women.” 

But the poll, notably, showed that women supported such a measure in greater numbers than men (50 percent of women in favor; 46 percent of men).

Overall, the survey suggests that the 20-week abortion measure fractures some of the modern Democratic coalition. Among all age groups, it was young Americans--who have regularly sided with Democratic priorities in the age of Obama--who most strongly supported the measure (52 percent). The measure also received the support of 51 percent of white women, both those who are college educated and those who are not.

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The abortion measure received plurality support across all income levels and even fared well in the suburbs--a key battleground for social issues and elections--receiving 49 percent support, with 41 percent opposed.

The measure split along racial lines, with white Americans in favor (50 percent to 43 percent) and nonwhites opposed (49 percent against to 43 in favor).

For Republicans, the battle over abortions after the 20-week point is a welcome effort to move the abortion debate off the tough topics of rape and incest. Democrats have proven adept in recent years at framing the abortion debate by focusing on those cases, successfully casting Republicans--especially Republican men--as out-of-touch extremists.

It is the same political playbook that Republicans had used a decade earlier when speaking about “partial-birth” abortions to paint Democrats as unfeeling extremists. In the 1990s, the House overrode a President Clinton veto of such procedures with a two-thirds vote that included key Democratic support.

Warning signs still remain for the GOP in their handling of the 20-week abortion measure.

There were no women among the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee that crafted the bill. And it did not initially include exceptions for rape or incest--provisions inserted later by GOP leadership. Mindful of the optics, the leadership also tapped a female lawmaker, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to manage the legislative debate on the floor.

In the poll, arguments for and against the measure were presented to Americans.

Survey respondents were told that the legislation included exceptions in cases of rape and incest that were reported to authorities. They were also told supporters say the bill was necessary because a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy and that opponents say the measure undermines abortion rights granted by the Supreme Court in 1973.

The survey of 1,005 adults was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from June 20 to 23, via both landlines and cell phones. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.