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Poll finds support for — and discomfort with — expanding abortion access in Mass.

A new poll found mixed support for abortion measures lawmakers sent to Governor Charlie Baker.
A new poll found mixed support for abortion measures lawmakers sent to Governor Charlie Baker.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A majority of Massachusetts residents support the Legislature’s push to allow late abortions of ill-fated pregnancies, a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll found, but there was more discomfort about allowing teens as young as 16 to get an abortion without parental consent.

The survey found 56 percent of residents support extending the time frame in which abortion is legal past 24 weeks in cases in which a doctor determines the fetus cannot survive outside the uterus. Just 25 percent opposed the measure, while 16 percent were undecided.

Respondents were much more divided, however, on whether to lower to 16 the age at which a teenager can get an abortion without parental or judicial consent. While 48 percent supported the change, 40 percent opposed it, a split that fell just within the survey’s margin of error. While the change picked up support among women and white people, men and other racial groups balked, noted David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll.

There are “certain demographics that push against this,” he said.

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Both changes were recently adopted by the Massachusetts Legislature in a measure that also codifies into state law the provisions of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. Legislators and activists fear Roe will be overturned by a Supreme Court now dominated by conservatives with the addition of three justices nominated by President Trump.

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, on Friday struck the language that would lower the age limit for abortion, telling lawmakers he “cannot support” that change, and tightened the provisions on fatal fetal anomalies. Reproductive rights activists immediately began pushing lawmakers to ensure the original wording, which passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers, becomes law over Baker’s objections.

To be sure, it is difficult to capture the complexity of individuals’ feelings on such a fraught issue as abortion in a poll. Even many of those who participated expressed mixed feelings in interviews expounding on their responses.

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“There’s no easy answer to abortion and there never will be. At least for me,” said Ann Marie Sullivan, a 65-year-old resident of Marlborough who is white.

While she favors allowing later abortions in cases where the pregnancy is doomed, she does not support lowering the age without parental consent.

“I don’t think a 16-year-old has the wherewithal to handle something like that and that’s something you’re going to take with you to your grave,” Sullivan said. “I’m not even sure 18 is mature enough . . . When I was 18, I would not want to have to make that decision and my mother wouldn’t – that would not even be an option.”

Currently, abortion is legal in Massachusetts up until 24 weeks of pregnancy — but only after that time if necessary to protect the life or health of the pregnant person.

Anyone under 18 seeking an abortion must show the consent of at least one parent, or demonstrate maturity by obtaining a judicial “bypass” order in court.

The measure recently passed by the Legislature would lower that age limit to 16, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds access without parental consent. Reproductive rights activists who had pushed for an expansion of abortion access over the past two years had originally sought to eliminate the age limit entirely, but lawmakers had expressed discomfort about very young teens getting abortions without parental support.

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The poll, which surveyed 500 Massachusetts residents and was conducted Monday through Thursday by mobile and landline phones, picked up on continued discomfort among men, older respondents, and certain racial groups. A majority of Black and Latino respondents opposed the change, the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, found. And Asian Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of it, 63 percent to 21 percent.

Yousef Manzoor, who identifies as Asian and Pacific-Islander, told the Globe such laws represent a “contradiction” by handing life-or-death decision-making power to a teenager who is not trusted to make other major choices.

“When I was 16 years old, I thought I knew absolutely everything, and I could do whatever I want,” said Manzoor, 27, a small business owner who lives in Springfield. But he pointed to laws restricting young people from drinking and smoking, ones giving them less criminal culpability than adults — and to common wisdom that brain development is not completed until the mid-20s. ”So what makes us think that we can make a competent decision” regarding abortion at age 16 or 17, he asked.

Paleologos, the pollster, noted that the group whose opinion shifted most markedly between the two abortion questions was men, who opposed 16- and 17-year-olds getting abortions without parental consent but backed allowing abortions after 24 weeks in cases in which the doctor determines the fetus cannot survive. Fifty-two percent of men supported that provision, with 24 percent opposed and 20 percent undecided.

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Reproductive rights activists had pushed the Legislature for that adjustment, saying Massachusetts patients with late-diagnosed fetal anomalies now often fly to Colorado to terminate their pregnancies.

“It’s the question of permission vs. procedure,” Paleologos said. “If it’s permission men are more inclined to opt on the cautious side requiring permission from a judge or a parent. But when you present the question as procedure where a doctor is determining a fetus is incompatible with sustained life, then that’s the demographic that flips the most.”

Victoria McGrane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.