Most want to see some restrictions on abortion, poll shows

A new national poll could raise red flags for politicians on both sides of the increasingly polarized debate over abortion.

Three-quarters of Americans want to protect the decades-old landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. But the new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll also indicates that a majority want to see restrictions on abortion.

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The survey, conducted May 29-June 4, comes as the divisive issue has taken center stage in recent weeks in the race for the White House -- notably, prompting a major reversal this week by former Vice President Joe Biden.

According to the poll, released Friday, roughly 80 percent of those questioned indicated they’re in favor of some kind of limitations -- such as allowing abortion only in the first three or six months of a pregnancy, or only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

Just 18 percent supported allowing abortion in any case.

And roughly two-thirds of Americans say they favor requiring women to wait 24 hours after meeting with a health professional before undergoing an abortion, and requiring doctors who perform the procedure to have hospital admitting privileges.

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Those findings could be a warning signal for some Democratic lawmakers and candidates urging a rollback of restrictions -- and even suggesting no restrictions against late-term abortions.

This, in response to Republican-authored laws passed recently in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and elsewhere that severely restrict access to abortions.

Yet the poll also shows those new laws are favored by only a minority of Americans. Just a third questioned said they back so-called “heartbeat laws” that prohibit abortions after heart activity is detected in the womb, typically around six to eight weeks into a pregnancy. That can occur before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.

And less than a quarter support making it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion, which is included in Alabama’s measure that bans nearly all abortions.

The passage of restrictive abortion laws has energized many of the Democratic presidential contenders, who’ve railed against the measures and vowed to protect Roe v. Wade.

The poll’s release comes on the same week that Biden – the clear front-runner right now in the Democratic presidential nomination race – flip-flopped his position on the Hyde Amendment. Biden dropped his longtime support for the measure that blocks federal funds from being used for most abortions, after a loud chorus of criticism from many of his 2020 Democratic rivals over his support for the Hyde Amendment.

The PBS NewsHour, NPR, and Marist poll used live telephone operators to survey 944 adults nationwide. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.