In poll, most favor 20-week abortion limit

But majority not for restrictions against clinics

WASHINGTON — By a 2-to-1 ratio, Americans say they would prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than the 24-week mark established under current law, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The difference was stark, with 56 percent opting for the earlier threshold and 27 percent backing the standard. Another 10 percent volunteered they would prefer to outlaw abortion in the United States altogether or limit it earlier than 20 weeks after fertilization.

At the same time, 54 percent say they oppose state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate; 45 percent support such legislation.


The findings come as lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in states across the country are pushing to ban abortions earlier and impose new requirements that make it harder for abortion clinics to operate. Under the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortions can be performed until the point when an individual doctor determines a fetus’s viability, which is generally defined as up to 24 weeks of gestation. After that point, the government can prohibit the procedure so long as it provides safeguards for the mother’s health and well-being.

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The poll suggests that significant support exists for banning abortions earlier in a woman’s pregnancy, but far less for instituting onerous restrictions for abortion providers.

Bob Millsaps, an 80-year-old retiree in Bristol, Va., said he would ideally like to ban abortion except in cases of rape and incest, and prefers a 20-week ban to one starting at 24 weeks. But he added that he opposes requirements, including one now in effect in Virginia, requiring abortion clinic operators to ‘‘upgrade the clinics to hospital standards. That’s forcing them to not having any abortions at all.’’

More broadly, overall support for legal abortion remains stable, with 55 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. That finding is similar to a 2012 Post-ABC poll and surveys in recent years.

The poll was conducted July 18-21 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results from the full poll have an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.


By more than a 2-to 1 margin — 66 to 30 percent — Americans say they prefer that abortion laws be decided for all states on the basis of the US Constitution, rather than a state-by-state approach.

This applies to both hard-core abortion rights supporters and opponents: 73 percent of those who say abortion should always be legal want a national rule, as do 72 percent of those who say it should be illegal in all cases.

But on a practical level, the ground rules for abortion are being rewritten on the state level, where 50 new restrictions have been adopted since January, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute. Earlier this month, for example, Governor Rick Perry of Texas signed legislation that bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and requires that all abortions take place in fully equipped surgical centers.

Such measures have cheered abortion opponents such as Nita Wallace, who lives in the Fort Worth, Texas, area and has her own business. Wallace, who said she opposes the procedure because ‘‘God is the maker of life,’’ said religious Americans such as herself made a mistake in the past because ‘‘they didn’t get involved in politics so much, and now they’re realizing they lost ground by doing that.’’

The Post-ABC survey reveals deep religious divisions. Two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, but an identical 66 percent of white nonevangelicals say it should be legal. Support for allowing abortion in most or all cases peaks at 73 percent among Americans with no religious affiliation, while Catholics divide about evenly — 50 percent legal, 45 percent illegal.