Pro-abortion and anti-abortion protestors rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2014.
Susan Walsh/AP

Roe v. Wade may be in trouble, but its support remains strong

Last summer, about a month after Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he could understand why American women are concerned about the future of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

“I do understand,” the president said, “but I also understand that, you know, that’s a 50/50 question in this country.”

As the Republican saw it, Americans are evenly divided on the legal right to an abortion. Half the country is satisfied now, the argument goes, but if the high court’s five-member conservative majority overturns Roe, the other half will be pleased.

The trouble is, Trump’s assumptions about public attitudes are wrong, as polling data keeps reminding us.

Two-thirds of Americans want Roe v. Wade left in place, and most who hold that view would be disappointed or angry if the ruling were to be overturned someday, a new CBS News poll finds. Recent state laws restricting abortions have prompted speculation over whether the Supreme Court might one day revisit the decision.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, almost twice as many Americans say they would be dissatisfied or angry than happy or satisfied.

Not surprisingly, there was a partisan gap – Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say the Supreme Court should leave the status quo in place – though it’s worth emphasizing that the CBS News poll found that nearly half of Republicans also do not want to see the Roe precedent struck down.

There’s nothing to suggest these results are an outlier. Far-right efforts to impose new abortion bans are intensifying, but to think this reflects the wishes of the American mainstream is to get the dynamic backwards.

Eric Levitz had a great piece last week on the counter-majoritarian display: “Progressives cannot beat back the GOP’s assault on reproductive rights merely by ‘winning the argument’ over abortion; in many respects, that argument is already won. America does not lack a pro-choice consensus; the pro-choice majority lacks the power to hold Republican lawmakers accountable to that consensus. Thus the fight for reproductive rights in the United States is inextricable from the struggle against the tyrannical rule of our nation’s far-right minority.”