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Survey: Post-Roe Views On Abortion Vary by Religious Affiliation, Race

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Survey: Post-Roe Views On Abortion Vary by Religious Affiliation, Race
Views on Abortion Legality, 2010-2022, by Religious Affiliation
Graphic courtesy of PRRI

The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story by Bob Smietana was published on religionnews.com July 12, 2022. It has been edited for length. On June 28 the Christian Reformed  Church in North America issued a statement on overturning Roe v. Wade.


A survey conducted just after the release of the United States Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade shows white evangelical support of abortion restrictions sets that group apart from other Americans.

The data from the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute found Catholic, Black Protestant, non-Christian, and unaffiliated Americans are more supportive of abortion rights than white evangelicals, said Melissa Deckman, CEO of PRRI.

Deckman said that overall, support for legal abortion had risen in the past decade. In 2010, PRRI found that 55% of Americans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Today, she said, that number has increased to two-thirds.

“Americans have become more supportive of abortion rights in the past decade,” she said. “I think part of that is driven by the fact that we have more religiously unaffiliated Americans.”

The survey of 2,038 Americans, which used the Ipsos online panel, was conducted June 24-26 and was put in the field right after the announcement of the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe. The idea was to get an immediate response from the public.

“Having the survey in the field immediately after the court released the Dobbs decision was by design, allowing us to evaluate the decision’s impact on public attitudes in near-real-time,” said a PRRI spokesman in an email.

The Dobbs decision put abortion regulation back into the hands of states—and, for some states seeking to enact new laws, into the hands of voters. Several states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, had laws, referred to as trigger laws, that included provisions to put restrictions on abortion in effect if Roe was overturned. 

Among survey respondents, white evangelicals support more restrictions than any other religious group. Most said abortion should be banned early in pregnancy, with 81% saying they would support laws banning abortion after 15 weeks. Seven in 10 said they support bans on abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around six weeks.  

Two-thirds (63%) support abortion bans except in cases of “rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.” Just over half (54%) said abortion should be banned in any case, “except to save the life of the mother.” Half said abortion pills should be banned. More than half (56%) said performing an abortion should be a felony.

The survey found less support among white evangelicals for other restrictions. Less than half (43%) said it should be illegal to cross state lines to obtain an abortion. Just over a third (38%) said seeking an abortion should be a felony.

By contrast, Americans from most other faith groups surveyed opposed laws that restrict abortion. More than 6 in 10 white Catholics, white mainline protestants and religiously unaffiliated Americans opposed heartbeat bans on abortion (laws that ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy). They also opposed making abortion pills illegal, including 71% of those from non-Christian faiths and 83% of the unaffiliated. Most faith groups also opposed laws to make seeking an abortion a crime, making it a felony to provide an abortion or making it illegal to cross state lines to obtain an abortion.

“There is considerably more variation among religious groups on 15-week bans,” according to PRRI. “Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (74%), non-Christian religious Americans (70%), Black Protestants (69%), Hispanic Catholics (56%), and white mainline Protestants (55%) oppose these laws. Less than half of white Catholics (45%) and only 16% of white evangelical Protestants oppose them.”

One thing that nearly all religious groups agree on is birth control: Few support any restrictions—from 24% of white evangelicals to 7% of the unaffiliated.

Pew Research has also found white evangelicals to be outliers when it comes to abortion. A Pew survey released before the Dobbs decision found that 74% say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. That survey found more than 8 in 10 of the unaffiliated, which Pew refers to as “nones,” support legal abortion in most or all cases.

The Pew survey did find that most religious groups are open to some restrictions on abortion.

“One commonality across these groups is that sizable numbers in all of them see the issue of abortion in shades of gray,” according to Pew. “Large majorities in every group—ranging from 63% of religious ‘nones’ to 78% of white non-evangelical Protestants—say abortion should be legal in some circumstances and illegal in others.”

Few Americans, regardless of religious belief, say women should be penalized for seeking an abortion, according to Pew. The most likely group is white evangelicals, a quarter of whom said women who have an abortion should face jail time, compared to 14% of Catholics and 18% percent of Protestants. Overall, 14% of Americans would support jail time, while 16% would support fines or community service as a penalty.

Knowing someone who has had an abortion seems to have some effect on how people see abortion, PRRI found, namely making them more sympathetic toward abortion. Among white evangelicals, knowing someone who had an abortion made them less likely to say abortion should be illegal in all cases. Among other groups already more likely to believe in some legalized abortion, knowing someone who had an abortion made them more likely to believe abortion should be legal in all cases.

Among white evangelicals, 16% of those who know someone who has had an abortion said abortion should be illegal in all cases. Support was 26% for those white evangelicals who do not know someone who had an abortion. For white Catholics, knowing someone who had an abortion made them more likely (33%) to say abortion should be legal in all cases than those who don’t know someone who has had an abortion (23%). Similarly, among the unaffiliated, knowing someone who had an abortion made them 12 percentage points more likely to believe it should be legal in all cases (56% compared to 44%). 

Abortion has also increasingly become a make-or-break issue for voters, said Beckman. The recent PRRI survey found that a third of Americans will only vote for candidates who share their views on abortion. That includes 40% of the unaffiliated and 37% of white evangelicals. She said Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants have become more likely to support only candidates who share their views.

“Historically, those individuals who oppose abortion rights have always been much more likely to say they will only vote for someone who shares that view,” she said. “We’ve known that for decades. But all of a sudden, nationally we’re finding that with Roe’s reversal, that in fact, those who are supportive of abortion rights are now saying this is key to their vote decision.”

Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. See other Ahead of the Trend articles here.

© 2022 Religion News Service

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