National View: Americans aren’t divided on abortion; their politicians are

“A very small, small percentage of Americans believe abortion should be legal in the third trimester.”

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Michael Graham

Why is abortion the most divisive issue in American politics? Because Americans are fundamentally compassionate and fair-minded people. They don’t want to bully pregnant women, and they don’t want to hurt babies. What decent person wants to impose (as pro-choice advocates put it) a “forced birth” on a woman? And what caring human being wants to (as pro-lifers say) “stop a beating heart”?

No wonder Americans are so divided on abortion.

Except … they’re not.

As Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute said in a recent podcast interview , the center of the bell curve on abortion for American voters is for it to be legal during the first trimester and restricted after that. “A very small, small percentage of Americans believe abortion should be legal in the third trimester.”

Ask Americans if they agree with pro-choice absolutists that abortion should be legal all the way through pregnancy, and only 19% say yes. That’s in a Pew Research poll from March 2021, as well as in Gallup’s polling going back two decades. Support for Planned Parenthood’s position has rarely broken the 20% mark.


But when Pew asked Americans if they share the pro-life absolutists’ view that all abortions should be illegal, just 8% agreed. Gallup’s number is a bit higher, with around 20% supporting a complete ban, but still a distinct minority.

Meanwhile, in poll after poll, 60% or more of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the early days of pregnancy — particularly the first trimester — but banned later in the pregnancy. Once the third trimester is reached, 80% of Americans oppose abortion.

Again that's 80%. How many “80%” issues are there in the current political climate?

A Marist poll released in January lays out Americans’ views in more detail. It gave respondents a range of six views on abortion, from always legal to never allowed. “Always” got just 17% and “never” a mere 12%. That leaves 71% of respondents somewhere in between.

Which begs the question: If 60% to 70% of Americans are “in-between” on abortion, why aren’t more politicians in there with them? In particular, Democrats who were once the party of “safe, legal and rare”?

In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan is trying to run for U.S. Senate in a red state as a Democratic moderate. But he acknowledged last week he supports his party’s abortion without restriction position. Beto O’Rourke in deep-red Texas faces an uphill fight for the governor’s office. He just said the same thing. The front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Joe Biden’s native state of Pennsylvania has also staked out that political spot.

And, we learned from Jen Psaki last week, so has one-time pro-life Democrat President Joe Biden.

The media often portray Republicans as the abortion extremists, and there are certainly many pro-life voices who amplify the “abortion is murder” message. But as extreme as the 15-week abortion ban at the center of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case before the Supreme Court and the Texas “fetal heartbeat” bill may be, they aren’t as extreme as the bill before the Senate this week mandating abortion without limits at any point during a pregnancy. And virtually every Democrat in Congress has already voted for that bill at least once.


To repeat: Every Democrat in Congress, with just a couple of exceptions (Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas) has already voted to allow late-term abortions that about 80% of Americans oppose. And with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer bringing the Women’s Health Protection Act back up for a vote on Wednesday, they’re going to do it again.

Are Democrats right? Is their expansive embrace of abortion the morally or ethically correct position? That is a divisive question that will be hotly debated for years to come.

But the question of whether Democrats have gotten the politics right is a no-brainer. On abortion, voters are overwhelmingly opposed to extremism. Politicians in both parties embrace it at their peril.

Michael Graham is publisher of .

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