Forty-one years after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, two-thirds of the American population believe that decisions on abortion should be made between a woman, her family and her doctor, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted last week.
But a majority of the country's elected officials see things differently. Only 40 percent of Congress, one-third of all governors and a quarter of state legislatures support the legal right to have an abortion, according to a new report by NARAL Pro-Choice America. More than half of elected officials fully oppose legal abortion, a position held by only 14 percent of Americans, while a small fraction of lawmakers have a mixed voting record on the issue.
The American public has long been evenly split on abortion from an ideological perspective. The new poll finds that 48 percent think abortion should be generally or always legal, while 47 percent think it should be generally or always illegal. But even among those who think abortion should be generally illegal, more think it should be legal in some circumstances (33 percent) than think it should be banned entirely (14 percent).
And the new poll suggests that a strong majority of Americans think those exceptions should not be defined by politicians, but by women themselves. Sixty-four percent said "decisions about abortion should be made by a woman and her doctor," while 24 percent said that "government has a right and obligation to pass restrictions on abortion." Only 35 percent said they would be in favor of Congress passing new restrictions on abortion.
"People really do make a distinction between their own moral beliefs about abortion and the role of government and politicians in making health care decisions for women," Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, told HuffPost in an interview. "We value religious freedom, meaning that you don't have to violate your own religious beliefs, but you also don't get to tell others what to do."
But lawmakers' relatively conservative stance on reproductive rights has led to a massive wave of legislative attacks on abortion in the past three years. State legislatures have enacted more abortion restrictions since 2010 than in the entire previous decade, and Republicans in the House of Representatives are continuing to focus on restricting abortion in the 2014 legislative session.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will be a featured speaker at Wednesday's March for Life, the nation's biggest anti-abortion protest, and the Republican National Committee will consider a resolution this week that would urge GOP candidates to speak out strongly against legal abortion.
The House is also considering a bill that would eliminate tax benefits for women who buy insurance plans that cover abortion. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) went so far as to say that eliminating abortion would create jobs.
"It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children," Goodlatte said at a Judiciary Committee mark-up of the bill last week.
What's more, the House of Representatives passed a bill last year banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, directly challenging the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. The ruling, handed down 41 years ago on Wednesday, protects a woman's right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks. Only 33 percent of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned, according to the HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Hogue said she believes the GOP's redistricting efforts have enabled some anti-abortion candidates to hang onto elected seats they would otherwise lose. But GOP strategists have warned that redistricting has pushed the party so far to the right that it is losing its appeal to the women and minority voters its needs to win a presidential race.
"The pendulum is starting to swing in the other direction," Hogue said. "It's going to take a few cycles before we see a legislative body that resembles the majority of Americans, but we will if elected officials continue to impose their views on a people who feel differently than they do."
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Jan. 14-15 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.