Fact Check: Is Overturning Roe v. Wade Unpopular With Americans?

The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court protects the rights of women to seek an abortion "without undue restrictive interference from the government."

However, a draft majority opinion, reportedly written by Justice Samuel Alito and leaked to Politicoby an unnamed source, states that the Supreme Court plans to overturn this principle.

The document, which was confirmed by Chief Justice Roberts on Tuesday as "authentic," but not representing a "final decision," stated: "It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives."

The secretive paper has taken by surprise both those who are in favor of and those opposed to the historic ruling. Naturally, commentators on each side of the debate have claimed to have the backing of the majority of the American public.

Activists Rally at the Supreme Court
Pro-choice and anti-abortion activist rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 02, 2022 in Washington, DC. Abortion could quickly become illegal in 13 states if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The Claim

Tweets posted in May 2022 by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, among many others, suggest that opposition to Roe v. Wade is unpopular and that America is a pro-life nation, respectively.

While Kirk's claim does not directly quote the 1973 ruling, given the context of the Supreme Court leak, it strongly implies that most of the U.S. opposes Roe v. Wade.

Warren's claim is more clear-cut, referencing the law directly and stating that to overturn it amounts to an imposition of "unpopular views" on the public.

The Facts

Attempting to gauge the level of popular support for a policy or ruling is always tricky. Reliable polling data is our best resource, but it is still vulnerable to flaws. Participatory bias, the phrasing used and sampling flaws are just a few of the factors that could influence such a poll's accuracy.

Furthermore, the tone of opinion on Roe v. Wade is not strictly divided into pro and anti-abortion camps. Many Americans that support Roe v. Wade also favor restrictions that the ruling did not adjudicate on, such as permitting abortion only in the first trimester.

However, consistent polling for decades appears to strongly suggest the American public largely does not want the Supreme Court ruling overturned.

Perhaps one of the most helpful resources to measure this is Gallup, which has charted the trajectory of support for Roe v. Wade over recent decades.

From 1989 to 2021, the Washington-based analytics and advisory company has surveyed adults aged 18 and over, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, asking whether they would want to see the decision overturned.

Its results consistently show Americans do not want to see the decision overturned, with upwards of 52 percent of respondents showing support over the years. While support for overturning the ruling has increased since 2018, that sentiment has never closely matched the sentiment of those in favor of the ruling.

Polling from other organizations and media analysis echoes Gallup's results.

Responding to Newsweek's request for comment, Senator Warren's representatives pointed to a CNN poll in January 2022, which found that 69 percent of Americans were opposed to overturning the decision.

It also found that if it were overturned, 59 percent of respondents said they would want states to set laws there were more permissive, not restrictive, toward abortion.

The Pew Research Center also found that in 2013, 2017, and 2019 the majority of Americans opposed overturning Roe v Wade.

In 2020, data from NBC News showed that 66 percent of adults didn't believe the Supreme Court should completely overturn it either.

A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll released in 2021 also discovered that most Americans would prefer to maintain the status quo.

The recent news has quickly galvanized both sides of the abortion debate; Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene gloated over the draft opinion claiming "Our God is Bigger" while Roe v. Wade supporters were heard chanting "F*** Alito" outside the Supreme Court.

Such invective statements can complicate the ability to assess the wider mood at face value alone. Additionally, polling suggests America's wider views on abortion rights are more nuanced than the Roe v Wade support suggests.

For example, Gallup found that fewer Americans consider abortion should be legal under any circumstances than those who think it should be legal only under certain circumstances.

Gallup also found that the proportion of Americans who consider themselves either pro or anti-abortion has changed frequently over the past two decades. Polling in 2021 showed more people considered themselves pro-abortion, only two years after the same survey showed the opposite result.

Responding to a Newsweek comment request, a spokesman for Kirk did not dispute the polling that shows support for retaining Roe v. Wade, nor present data showing America is majority "pro-life."

They asserted a belief that there's "confusion" about the law, and that Americans will become more pro-life over time, citing Gallup polls showing that the gap between those on either side of the issue had narrowed sharply since 1995.

It now sits at 49 percent identifying as "pro-choice" against 47 percent "pro-life" as of 2021.

But despite some discrepancy between support for Roe v. Wade and support for abortions more broadly, there is no evidence to back speculative claims that the general public is somehow misinformed about the law.

And based on the best measure of public opinion we have available—public polling by a number of independent survey organizations—it does appear that Roe v. Wade still draws support from the majority of the American people.

While the unexpected and heated debate that the Supreme Court leak has fueled could tilt opinions in one direction or another, for now there is no evidence of such a shift.

The Ruling

Fact Check - True

True.

Surveys and polls from multiple organizations, some of which have charted the ruling's popularity for a number of decades, have consistently found that the majority of Americans do not support the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Correction 05/05/2022 4:15 a.m. ET: This article has been corrected to say Supreme Court ruling instead of legislation.

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