When the Supreme Court overturned nearly five decades of federal protection for abortion, Maria Bartini was, in a word, furious. Across the state, others echoed her anger in visceral terms, from “nauseated” to “horrified” and “depressed.”
Outrage over the rollback of abortion rights nationally is particularly pronounced in Massachusetts, where abortion rights enjoy sweeping public support, according to a new poll.
“It’s not a baby until it draws breath. Until then it is part of the mother, in which case it is up to the mother to decide what should happen with her own body,” said Bartini, a developmental psychologist who lives in Clarksburg, a small town in Berkshire County. “That’s a big part of my anger.”
In a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, 78 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a decisive majority that substantially exceeds the national trend.
In contrast, less than one in five reacted favorably to the Supreme Court decision, saying they were “happy,” or agreed with the decision, or were “unfazed/indifferent/doesn’t affect me.”
“That clearly shows us where the scales are tipped on the issue,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which surveyed 600 Massachusetts residents about their views last week.
National polls have found that a majority of Americans disagree with the decision issued by the Supreme Court last month overturning the constitutional right to an abortion. But amid an avalanche of competing concerns, from inflation to crime and gun violence and political extremism, abortion has not risen to the forefront of issues motivating voters nationally leading up to the midterm elections.
In Massachusetts, Supreme Court decisions on abortion, guns, and the environment are taking more of an emotional toll than day-to-day worries about inflation and the economy, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the lingering presence of COVID-19 variants, the Suffolk/Globe poll found. Still, only 34 percent of respondents said the abortion ruling makes them more likely to vote in November, compared to 63 percent who said it would not.
“What that tells us is that both men and women were planning to vote anyway,” Paleologos said. But he said the survey revealed a significant gender gap, noting that 46 percent of women said they were more likely to vote based on the court’s decision, compared to 22 percent of men. “Twice as many women are more likely to vote than men just based on this one question.”
Forty-eight percent of respondents to the Suffolk/Globe poll said abortion should be legal in all cases. Another 30 percent said it should be legal in most cases.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted this summer found 29 percent of adults nationally said abortion should be legal in all cases, while 33 percent said it should be legal in most cases. Eight percent said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances and 28 percent said it should be illegal in most cases.
In Massachusetts, fewer than 5 percent of respondents said abortion should be illegal in allcases, and 11 percent said it should be illegal in most cases.
Abortion is legal in Massachusetts until 24 weeks of pregnancy. After that, it’s permitted to preserve the patient’s life, physical or mental health, or — under a state law enacted in 2020 — to end a pregnancy with a fatal fetal anomaly.
Abortion opponents said that while they are working to build support for restrictions, the poll results were predictable in Massachusetts. Under 10 percent of Massachusetts voters are registered Republicans and the issue is one of many that has become sharply divided on partisan lines.
“I am not surprised, given that Massachusetts is far more liberal than the country as a whole and the rhetoric from our politicians in both parties is more often pro-choice than pro-life,” said Myrna Maloney Flynn, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
Still, the Supreme Court ruling, which has already triggered total abortion bans in nine states and six-week restrictions in four, has boosted optimism among abortion opponents, even in Massachusetts, she said.
“We know that the road is long but the last 50 years — and what just happened last month — have taught us that that long road is definitely worth traveling,” she said.
On the opposite side of the divisive issue, the Supreme Court decision has galvanized some once-apathetic voters, who are now keenly aware of the stakes of political participation.
“I used to think politics were not that big of a deal,” said Daniel Skiba, an Air Force veteran and union HVAC technician who didn’t vote in 2016. Now he’s engaged, thinking about his fiancée’s welfare, and vowing never to vote Republican again.
“Their issues aren’t political,” said Skiba, 29. To his mind, Republicans are trying to take bodily autonomy from women, close the separation between church and state, and let a religious minority control the government.
“Isn’t that the whole reason why a lot of people left Britain in the first place?” he said. “I think that’s kind of ironic.”
Nearly two-thirds of respondents also expressed concern that the Supreme Court will curtail other constitutional rights, such as gay marriage, while 40 percent said they expect the court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade will limit their ability — or the ability of friends and family — to get an abortion. Thirty-four percent said they did not think it would.
Some poll respondents explained in interviews that although the abortion decision upsets them, it would not drive their vote in Massachusetts, where they do not believe abortion rights are at risk.
“I think we’re lucky that we live in Massachusetts,” said Bethany O’Day, 47, an unenrolled voter from Pembroke. “If a governor were to come in and say they’re strictly pro-life, I think they would have a hard time pushing their agenda. And I don’t think somebody who’s that conservative would get elected.”
She worried about people with problem pregnancies outside of Massachusetts who “don’t have a right to choose whether they want to live or they want their unborn child to live.”
The Supreme Court ruling is expected to have the greatest impact on Black women, who have a disproportionately high number of abortions and the worst maternal health outcomes, as well as low-income Americans who lack the resources to travel to states where abortion remains legal.
But Black and Latino respondents in the poll were less likely to believe the decision would affect them or those close to them, while white respondents voiced the most concern.
The poll also found that those making the least money have the lowest motivation to vote based on the abortion ruling. Paleologos said that makes sense, given their more immediate economic needs.
“It’s survival, for them,” he said. “This isn’t the motivator.”
The survey was conducted July 20-23 using both mobile and land line phones. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.