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Opinions About Abortion Remain Remarkably Steady

One contentious element of the health care reform debate still under discussion in the Senate is whether or not the legislation should cover abortions. More than half of the public told a CBS News Poll conducted last month that health care reform should not cover abortions, while just 34 percent thought it should.

Americans' views about the government funding abortions, and about abortion itself, have remained stable for many years.

In 1994, CBS and the New York Times found 53 percent of Americans thought abortion should not be part of any government health care plan. In CBS News Polls conducted in the late 1970s, about half felt the government should not "help a poor woman with her medical bills if she wants an abortion."

Views have also been remarkably steady on the issue of abortion itself. In a CBS News Poll conducted in November, 34 percent felt abortion should be generally available to those who want it, 40 percent felt it should be available but under stricter limits than it is now, and 23 percent felt it should not be permitted at all.

11/2009 6/2009 9/2008 5/2007
Generally available 34% 36% 37% 39%
Available, but limited 40% 41% 42% 37%
Not permitted 23% 21% 19% 21%
Don't Know 3% 2% 2% 3%
(CBS News Polls)

Those views on abortion have remained steady for more than ten years. In the early 1990s, the percentage that thought abortion should be generally available was slightly higher, at around four in 10.


For an issue that may have different implications for men and women, there is little evidence of a gender gap. Thirty-one percent of women, and 37 percent of men, think abortion should be generally available. Women are more likely than men to think it should not be permitted at all, but still, just 27 percent of them feel that way.

All Women Men
Generally available 34% 31% 37%
Available, but limited 40% 39% 41%
Not permitted 23% 27% 19%
Don't Know 3% 3% 3%
(CBS News Poll, November 2009)

Of course, there are ideological differences in opinion about abortion -- and this too has historically been the case.

In the November CBS News Poll, nearly half of Democrats said abortion should be generally available, compared to just 21 percent of Republicans. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to think it should not be permitted at all. Similarly, 55 percent of liberals think it should be available, but that drops to just 19 percent among conservatives. Nearly four in 10 conservatives think it should not be available.

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Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.