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A majority of Republicans prefer state-level abortion policies, even though they don’t support Roe v. Wade. Here’s why.

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By Zoe Han

Democrats and Republicans are divided on how abortion policy should be applied in the U.S. What’s more, those divisions exist clearly within members of both parties. 

More than half of Republicans prefer each state to create its own policy on abortion, wrote Chris Karpowitz and Jeremy C. Pope, who are both professors at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy located at Brigham Young University, and authors of a paper released this month.

That majority includes 55% of moderate Republicans and 69% of conservative Republicans, they added. Far fewer (34% of moderate Democrats and 17% of liberal Democrats) feel the same way.

A majority of Democrats prefer a single national policy that’s consistent across all states, including 83% of liberal Democrats and 66% of moderate Democrats, the paper found. Some 45% of moderate Republicans and 31% of conservative Republicans share that view.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion policy up to the states; 44 states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a public-health think tank that supports abortion access. 

Overall, 56% of Americans prefer a single national policy, while 43% prefer state-level policies. 

So what’s going on? “We find that Americans who favor legal abortion in most or all cases tend to prefer a single national policy, while those who prefer that abortion remain illegal in most circumstances favor state-based policymaking,” Karpowitz and Pope wrote.

One possible explanation for this more complicated approach to abortion policy: The Democrats — who largely favor legal abortion in most circumstances — may be still processing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and be reeling from the states that have introduced abortions, while the Republicans — who are generally against abortion in most cases — likely see state intervention as the path of least resistance to increase laws against abortion access.

These results are from the 2022 American Family Survey by Deseret News, a publishing company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. In its eighth year, the survey polled 3,000 Americans across gender, race, age and education this past August. 

The survey also finds that only 7% of Americans consistently favor no access to abortion, meaning banning any abortion procedure in all scenarios. That is compared to another 7% favoring complete access in all scenarios. 

“Greater effort to both understand and communicate the complexity of Americans’ abortion beliefs could bear fruit for politicians seeking a new equilibrium on these issues,” the authors added.

Midterm elections

The results are timely: The midterm elections are weeks away and abortion issues are expected to be front and center. 

“Understanding the nuance in Americans’ abortion beliefs, including the variety of possibilities for facilitating or denying access to abortion, is likely to be ever more important both in the upcoming congressional elections and as more states introduce and debate abortion-related regulations,” Karpowitz and Pope wrote.

“Often, media reports focus on the extremes of this debate — either total prohibition or access through the final days of pregnancy. But both of those positions are unpopular, as the new questions we have introduced make clear,” they added.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a national abortion ban bill in mid-September. The bill would prohibit any abortion procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy with few exceptions. The ban is stricter than many conservative states’ abortion bans in place since Roe v. Wade was overturned this past summer. 

The bill received strong opposition from Democrats and the White House. Some Republicans also avoided embracing the bill head-on. The proposed ban is unlikely to become a law, as Democrats hold a majority of seats in the House.

Graham introduced another abortion ban bill last year, which would have restricted the procedure after 20 weeks. The previous proposal unified Republicans, with 218 Republicans co-sponsors in total. (Graham did not respond to a request for comment.)

The authors of the American Family Survey noted complexities in attitudes toward abortion policies on both sides of the political divide, and warned that failing to see those nuances could miss opportunities to reach some kind of common ground. 

“Those who generally favor abortion access also see a role for regulatory limitations, and those who want to reduce abortion access also embrace a variety of possible exceptions,” Pope and Karpowitz wrote in the report. 

“Candidates and elected officials who move solely to the extremes will miss opportunities to find a new policy that reflects the nuance and complexity the vast majority of Americans clearly embrace,” they added.

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