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CBS News poll analysis: Americans have range of views on timing, circumstances of legal abortions

The politics of both parties on abortion
Democratic and Republican political strategies on abortion rights 06:57

As we've seen in recent CBS News polling, two in three Americans want abortion in their state to be legal in at least most cases. But polling also reveals a spectrum of views on when, and under what conditions, abortion should be permitted. Of those who think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, most would nevertheless set restrictions on when during a pregnancy an abortion should take place. And among those who think abortion should be against the law in most cases, most still think some exceptions should be made.

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Under what conditions should abortion be permitted?

We asked all respondents — including those who said abortion should be illegal in all cases in their state — whether there were certain instances where abortions should be permitted and found large majorities overall think abortions should be legal in cases where the woman's health is endangered by the pregnancy, in cases of rape or incest, and when there is a strong chance of either the fetus not surviving long after childbirth or being born with a serious disability. When asked if a woman should have an abortion "because she decides to," this percentage, though still a slight majority, is just over half.

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Americans who think abortions should generally be illegal would make many of these same exceptions, but are less inclined to agree on others.

Like Americans overall, a majority of those who think most abortions should be against the law in all or most cases would also make exceptions for the woman's health or in cases of rape and incest. There is less agreement when it comes to the viability and health of the fetus: only half of those who who want most abortions in their state to be illegal would make an exception in instances where there is a strong chance the fetus won't live once outside the womb, and even fewer — about four in 10 — think exceptions should also be made when there is a strong chance of the fetus having a serious disability.

But the clearest divide comes when the issue is framed in terms of choice. While most Americans believe a woman should be permitted to have an abortion because "she decides to," nearly all who think most abortions should be illegal in their state reject this idea.

On the pro-abortion rights side, there is is little differentiation when it comes to these exceptions: most think all of these are valid reasons for an abortion to be permitted.

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When should an abortion be legal?

For many Americans, how one feels about legal abortion in their state has more to do with at what point during the pregnancy the abortion would take place. While 12% say abortion should be illegal in their state in all cases, just 17% think abortion should be legal at any point in the pregnancy, including the final trimester. For most Americans, it's somewhere in between.

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Those who think most abortions in their state should be legal largely agree that a woman should be permitted to have an abortion for any reason she chooses, but not necessarily at any point during the pregnancy. Fewer than half who generally support legal abortion think it should be permitted beyond the first trimester, and just a quarter think abortion should be legal up through the final trimester.

For those who think most, but not all, abortions should be against the law in their state, there is more of a consensus. Most in this group think legal abortions should only be permitted within the first month of pregnancy. A third would extend this period to the first trimester, and a very small percentage - one in 10 - would extend that period to even later in the pregnancy.

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Personal experience

Another factor that influences views on abortion is personal experience. Over half of Americans — particularly women — "know someone well" who has had an abortion (including majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike). Those who know someone well who  has been in this situation are both more likely to think abortion should be generally available and that Roe v. Wade should be kept in place. They are also more likely say the circumstances should be up to the woman herself:  Six in 10 Americans who know someone who has undergone an abortion procedure think a woman should be permitted to have an abortion "because she decides to," compared to fewer than half who don't know someone who has experienced this. 

Jennifer De Pinto and Anthony Salvanto contributed to this report.

This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,088 U.S. adult residents interviewed between May  4-6, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ± 2.7 points.

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