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The Future of Roe vs. Wade

By Annie Lindenthal ’20

Abortion is a contentious topic in U.S. policy, with several state government officials having recently made unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation that would have extended abortion bans and restrictions. The most recent failed attempt was in Alabama, where state legislators attempted to pass a near entire ban on abortion rights, that would have banned abortion at any stage of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. The bill would have resulted in doctors being guilty of Class A felonies, akin to murder or rape, for administering illegal abortions. Similar attempts, such as the creation of “heartbeat” laws, which would have eliminated the option of having an abortion once a heartbeat could be detected, were made in states including Georgia and Ohio. While these efforts were halted due to their conflicting interests with Roe v. Wade, some officials are making significant efforts to overturn this court decision in light of the recent ideological leaning of the Supreme Court and seeming public support of abortion bans.

 In the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy’s Spring 2019 nationally representative public opinion survey, conducted by YouGov, the institute asked respondents whether or not they supported the overturning of the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

When examined by partisanship, the survey results show that 6% of Democrats supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade, compared to 68% of Democrats who opposed it. On the other end of the political spectrum, 44% of Republicans supported the overturning of the decision, while 32% of Republicans did not.

The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy also examined the importance of the issue of abortion to individuals in affecting their personal opinions towards the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

When examined by the importance of the issue of abortion to each individual, the BIPP survey results that there is a wide gap in opinions toward Roe vs. Wade depending on how important the issue is to people. We asked a question asking people to rank the importance of the abortion issue to their 2020 vote choice, giving choices of “very important,” “important,” not very important,” and “not important at all.”

After removing those with no opinion on the issue, the data is clear: a majority (56%) of those who think abortion is “very important” want to overturn Roe vs. Wade. But less than 20% of those who place abortion into any other category feel the same. Overturning Roe vs. Wade isn’t popular among the public at large. But it is quite popular among the people for whom abortion is very likely going to drive their vote.

With changing public opinion and the ideological leaning of the Supreme Court, the passing of abortion bans and restrictions may seem more feasible to state officials as they hope to push their abortion laws to the highest federal court and overturn Roe v. Wade. In the future, we may see a shift in the prioritized agenda and the decisions made in overturning legislation due to seeming public support by Republicans and citizens passionate about abortion. Among the individuals who find abortion to be very important, a plurality favors its overturning, suggesting that the apparent citizen support for President Trump and his nomination of pro-life justices may be a result of single policy favorability, rather than support for him more generally as a president. This demonstrates that single-issue politics may be prevalent and powerful going into the 2020 election. We can begin to examine how decisions, specifically by presidential candidates and the Supreme Court, may look different in a changing political climate, especially relating to abortion bans and restrictions, and see if public opinion is accurately represented by those holding and vying for the highest federal powers.

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