Late-Term Abortion Debate Prompts Shift From Pro-Abortion to Pro-Life, Poll Finds

By Zachary Stieber

A substantial shift from pro-choice to pro-life occurred recently in the wake of a nationwide debate on late-term abortion, according to a new poll.

A Marist College poll in January found that 55 percent of Americans identified as pro-choice, or in favor of abortions, versus 38 percent who identified as pro-life, or generally against abortions.

But a new poll by Marist, conducted with the Knights of Columbus, found that 47 percent of respondents now identify as pro-life, equal to the 47 percent who responded as pro-abortion.

“Current proposals that promote late-term abortion have reset the landscape and language on abortion in a pronounced—and very measurable—way,” Barbara Carvalho, director of The Marist Poll, said in a statement.

(The Marist Poll and Knights of Columbus)

Late-term abortions are generally defined as those performed at or after 21 weeks of gestation. About 1 percent of the 638,169 abortions conducted in 2015 were late-term abortions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A proposed bill in Virginia that would have enabled women to get abortions with the approval of just one doctor up until birth sparked a nationwide debate after Gov. Ralph Northam spoke about potentially killing infants after they were born. Northam’s comments also prompted Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to introduce legislation that would ensure babies that survive abortion are cared for. The bill was blocked on Feb. 25 by Democrats.

The shift in attitude against abortion was led by Democrats and people under 45 years old. In the new poll, the number of Democrats identifying as pro-life increased to 34 percent, versus 20 percent in the January poll. Younger respondents, or those under 45, shifted to 47 percent pro-life, from 28 percent in the previous poll.

(The Marist Poll and Knights of Columbus)

In addition, 80 percent of respondents said abortions should only be allowed during the first three months of pregnancy, only in certain cases such as rape or incest, or should never be permitted.

“Arguments in favor of late-term abortion are simply not convincing the American people,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in response to the poll. “If anything, since these proposals have been unveiled, people are moving noticeably in the pro-life direction. It is now clear that these radical policies are being pursued despite the opposition of the majority of Americans of both parties.”

The poll of 1,008 adults was conducted from Feb. 12 through Feb. 17 over the phone, with a plus-minus of 3.5 percentage points.

Against Late-Term Abortion

While support for abortion, in general, has crept up over the years, respondents to polls have long been against late-term abortions.

In the latest poll, 80 percent of respondents said they would like abortion limited to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy. And 71 percent of respondents said they oppose abortions after 20 weeks.

A poll conducted by YouGov and the pro-life group Americans United for Life in February found that 80 percent of respondents were opposed to abortion the day before the child is born and 79 percent opposed abortion in the third trimester at all.

In addition, asked about a Northam-style proposal of removing medical care for a child after birth, 82 percent of respondents said they opposed such a measure.

“This survey vividly reveals both the American people’s common-sense appreciation for the sanctity of life and the widespread horror, even among self-identified pro-choice Americans, of new laws like New York’s that effectively allow abortion up until the moment of delivery,” said Catherine Foster, president of Americans United for Life, in a statement.

The majority of respondents to a Hill.TV poll in 2018 said that abortion should be illegal or only legal in limited cases, such as rape, incest, or to save the life of a prospective mother. Only 18 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, including the third trimester.

In a Gallup poll in 2018, 60 percent of respondents said abortions should be legal in the first three months but 72 percent said abortions should be illegal in the second trimester.

And 87 percent said that abortions should be illegal in the final trimester, or in the final three months before full term.

“Most Americans generally see some reason for abortion to be legal, but far more think it should be legal in the first trimester than in the second or third,” Gallup summarized.

The view has held for decades. In 2003, for instance, 68 percent of respondents said that abortions should be illegal in the second trimester and 84 percent of people said abortions should be illegal in the third trimester.