By Bob Smietana
The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may mean the days of Roe v. Wade are numbered, according to legal scholars.
Kennedy had been a swing voter, playing a key role in decisions on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, political spending, and the death penalty.
In the 1990s, he reportedly considered voting to overturn Roe v. Wade when the court was deliberating a Pennsylvania law that imposed several restrictions on women seeking an abortion, including informed consent and a waiting period. But he eventually voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.
President Trump plans to announce his nominee for Kennedy’s successor on Monday. That successor will likely oppose Roe v. Wade. As a result, the law could soon be overturned.
That’s likely to be controversial.
A pair of new polls shows Americans are conflicted about how legal abortion should be.
Two-thirds of Americans say the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade. And most Americans want abortion to be legal.
Still, many want to see restrictions on when abortions can be performed.
Split down the middle
The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, taken right before Kennedy announced his retirement, found most Americans don’t want to see Roe v. Wade changed.
Two-thirds say the Supreme Court should not overturn the decision. Three in 10 (29 percent) say the court should overturn the decision.
But a recent Gallup poll shows many Americans want to see at least some restrictions on abortions. Half say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. One in 5 (18 percent) says abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.
Twenty-nine percent say it should be legal in all circumstances.
“While relatively few Americans appear to favor making abortion illegal, a slim majority appear sympathetic to taking steps to limit the circumstances under which abortions are permitted,” says Gallup.
Gallup also found Americans are split down the middle about abortion. Half say they are pro-life. Half call themselves pro-choice.
That’s a big change from the mid-1990s, when the two sides were further apart. During that time frame, 33 percent of Americans were pro-life, while 46 percent were pro-choice.
Americans have wavered over using those two labels since then. In 2012, 50 percent of Americans said they were pro-life and 41 percent said they were pro-choice, according to Gallup. In 2015, 50 percent said they were pro-choice, while 44 percent were pro-life.
American views on abortion also depend on the circumstances. Sixty percent, for example, say abortion should be legal during the first trimester. Fewer say it should be legal in the second trimester (28 percent) or third trimester (13 percent).
In other findings:
- 48 percent say abortion is immoral.
- 43 percent say abortion is moral.
- 75 percent say third-trimester abortion should be legal if a woman’s life is in danger.
- 52 percent say third-trimester abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest.
- 49 percent support first-trimester abortion when Down syndrome is detected.
- 29 percent support third-trimester abortion when Down syndrome is detected.
- 45 percent support first-trimester abortion for “any reason.”
- 20 percent support third-trimester abortion for “any reason.”
- 57 percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 say they are pro-life.
- 56 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they are pro-choice.
- Overturning Roe v. Wade Is Only a Necessary Beginning
- 10 Significant Swing Votes by Justice Kennedy
- Supreme Court Awards Victory to Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers
- Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Abortion Law
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.