The Times Poll : Public Is Deeply Divided Over Ruling on Abortion

Times Staff Writer

The American public is deeply divided over Monday’s Supreme Court decision opening the door to state limits on abortion, according to The Times Poll.

A total of 47% of those surveyed approved of Monday’s decision, 40% disapproved and 13% were not sure. While the supporters were ahead, the difference was so small that it was statistically meaningless, according to standards of polling experts.

The division was also illustrated by these figures: 40% want their state legislatures to make it harder to get an abortion but 40% feel their state laws should remain the same and 13% said abortions should be made easier to obtain.

The telephone poll of 756 Americans nationwide, directed by Times Poll director I. A. Lewis, was begun Monday shortly after the announcement of the decision and ended Monday night. It has a margin of error of 5 percentage points in either direction.


The poll portrayed a nation not only split, but one with feelings running high and people becoming polarized. The survey showed that Monday’s decision reached so deeply into the nation’s emotions that it could be a dominant issue in American political life in the months and years ahead.

As an indication of the intense emotions, one out of four of those surveyed said they intend to take some sort of political action because of the decision. And slightly more than that--36%--said the abortion issue would prompt them to switch votes to the candidate who agreed with their position on the issue.

The actions most threatened were writing a letter or switching political parties. But with the high court giving legislatures permission to change abortion laws, the fight is likely to be an unusual one, possibly waged in 50 state capitals at the same time.

On the question of whether they favored or opposed abortion, 41% said they were opposed, 38% favored it and 21% had no opinion. That is in line with the findings of a pre-decision Times survey which showed 40% opposed to abortion.


Americans are also split on their opinion of the Supreme Court, which preceded the abortion decision with the controversial ruling allowing the burning of the flag as a demonstration of free speech. While 40% had a favorable impression of the court in the poll, 34% had an unfavorable view and 26% had no opinion, about the same sentiment as shown in a Times poll in March before the court decisions were announced.

The mixed feelings were evident in questions about the specifics of the abortion decision.

49% Against Key Element

A total of 49% said they opposed a key feature of the decision. Asked if they favored the court, “in effect” inviting states to limit abortion, 49% said no, 40% favored it and 11% were not sure.


However, 56% said they were in favor of another portion of the decision, giving states the right to prohibit public employees or public hospitals from performing abortions except to save the mother’s life. Opposing that were 40%, while 4% were unsure.

And a strong majority, 57% to 32%, was in support of the court’s ruling allowing states to require tests to determine whether the fetus could survive outside the womb.

Forty-seven percent said they believed life began at conception, 25% said it began at the first signs of life and just 13% said at birth.

Those surveyed were also divided about whether the decision helped or hurt women’s rights. A total of 39% said it hurt, 35% said it had no impact and 12% said it helped.


Feelings toward the decision cut across party lines.

Liberal, Conservative Split

About as many Democrats as Republicans favored it. However, liberals disapproved of the decision, while conservatives were in favor.

But there was a difference among men and women. Fifty-three per cent of the men surveyed approved it and only 41% of the women did.


On another issue, most disapproved of the court decision that said flag burning is protected by the Constitution because it is a form of freedom of speech.

A total of 70% disapproved, while 26% approved of the decision.

And 66% of those surveyed favored a constitutional amendment banning the burning of the flag.