At a time when Texas is poised to outlaw the vast majority of abortions if the nation’s highest court overturns constitutional protections for the procedure, a recent University of Texas at Austin poll shows most Texan voters think access to abortion should be allowed in some form.
Texas would make performing most abortions a felony if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade — a future that looks considerably more likely after a nonbinding draft opinion was leaked from the high court Monday. Constitutional protections for abortion could be struck down as soon as this summer.
The university conducted the poll in April before the court’s document was leaked. The survey found that 78% of respondents believe abortion should be allowed in some form while only 15% said it should be never permitted.
If Roe is overturned, Texas would allow doctors to perform abortions only to save the life of a pregnant person or if that person risked “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”
Around 39% of poll respondents said Texans should always be able to obtain abortions as a matter of personal choice, and 11% of respondents thought abortions should be available for other reasons in addition to pregnancy resulting from rape.
The poll shows that 28% of respondents believe abortions should be available only in cases of rape or incest or when a person’s life is endangered by their pregnancy. And 7% said they didn’t know.
Respondents fell mostly along party lines. Of the Republicans surveyed, 42% said abortions should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or when a person’s life is in danger. The majority of Democrat respondents — 67% — said Texans should be allowed to seek an abortion as a personal choice.
But there were outliers. Among Republicans, 15% said Texans should always be allowed to seek an abortion and 12% said the law should allow Texans to seek abortions for reasons outside of just rape. On the flip side, 5% of Democrats said abortion should be completely outlawed and 13% said it should be allowed only in cases of rape or incest.
The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin has been tracking abortion trends for years. The researchers’ most recent poll, released in February, found that 53 percent of Texans oppose a complete ban on abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. (Thirty-four percent supported such a policy, and 13 percent didn’t know or had no opinion.)
“When we look at polling of Texas voters, what we find is an issue that people are, broadly, pretty split on,” said Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Politics Project. “But ultimately, you find most Texans supportive of at least some access. It’s much more nuanced to the electorate than, certainly, is being portrayed by elected officials looking to take victory laps.”
In February, 43 percent of Texans said they believed abortion laws here should be less strict, while 23 percent said they should stay the same. An additional 23 percent said they should be stricter, and 12 percent had no opinion. Texas banned abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy last September.
An overwhelming majority of Texans — 81 percent — believe abortion should be legal when a woman’s health is seriously endangered. About 73 percent support exceptions for rape or incest, and 58 percent say abortions should be legal if “there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby,” according to an October poll by the Texas Politics Project.
Texas’ six-week abortion ban provides no exceptions for rape, incest or severe fetal abnormality.
Ten years of aggregated polling data from Gallup estimates that 70 percent of Texans believe abortion should be legal at least in some circumstances. About 18 percent believe it should be legal under all circumstances, while 10 percent said it should be legal in most and 42 percent said it should be legal in only a few. An additional 26 percent said the procedure should be outlawed entirely.
That’s in line with most other GOP-led states, according to Gallup.
“Although technically a competitive or ‘purple’ state in terms of how it voted in the past two presidential elections, Texas is more closely aligned with ‘red’ — that is, strongly Republican — states when it comes to its residents’ views on abortion,” Gallup analysts wrote in October.
Another October survey, by researchers at the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, found that nearly 7 in 10 Texans believed the state’s six-week abortion ban was overly restrictive. Still, a majority of residents — 55 percent — supported the law, according to the poll.
At least since 2014, roughly equal portions of Texans have identified as “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” The Texas Politics Project is scheduled to release another poll Wednesday showing roughly similar trend lines, Blank said.
In February, 42 percent of voters said they were pro-choice; 38 percent said they were pro-life. Thirteen percent said they were neither, and 7 percent didn’t know.
“When we talk about abortion attitudes in the public, we’re talking about a set of opinions that, for the most part, are fixed and reinforcing,” Blank said. “Most people know what they think about abortion because they’ve been exposed to these arguments for much of their adult lives.”
But, he noted, most of those “opinions and attitudes” have been developed in a post-Roe world. That makes it difficult to predict how voters will feel or react if the high court does allow states to completely prohibit the procedure.
We’ve seen and talked about a lot of this data before. It’s important to remember three things: How the questions are worded really matters, people don’t always know exactly what the state of current abortion law is in Texas (in particular, lots of people don’t know everything about SB8), and people’s opinions on abortion may not affect how they vote or motivate them to vote.
The big question is whether this impending sea change will have a significant effect on voter behavior this year. One could argue that SB8 effectively banned abortion in Texas already and it didn’t seem to have much effect, but the confusing mechanisms of SB8 may have dampened any effect. The evisceration of Roe is a dominant national news story and will be again when the opinion in that Mississippi case is actually handed down, and there seems to be a big psychological effect in overturning Roe, as some national polls have shown that people had simply not believed that would ever happen. You could argue that the 2014 gubernatorial race was about abortion, at least to some extent, but the dynamics of that race and that year are just very different.
I don’t think we have any idea yet how this will play out, and we may not have even a vaguely decent guess at it for a few more months. We are truly in new territory, and we need to be very careful about what assumptions we make and what past events we extrapolate from. There’s clearly some energy on the Democratic side about this, but it’s May and we don’t know how long that might last. We just don’t know. But we can work to make what we want happen. Maybe now more people will be in on that. It’s our best hope.