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Republicans embrace the one abortion policy Americans most oppose

There’s one approach to banning abortions that 80 percent of Americans oppose. It’s one a growing number of Republican officials are embracing anyway.


Broadly speaking, polls on Americans’ attitudes toward abortion have been consistent for decades: Narrow majorities believe women should be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and the Roe v. Wade precedent should remain intact. In fact, as Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court prepare to turn back the clock, support for the status quo appears to be growing.

But just below the surface, public opinion on reproductive rights can get more nuanced based on the wording of questions and the specific policy details. That’s certainly the case in the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, which was released yesterday.

About two-thirds of Americans say they do not support overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Seven-in-10 U.S. adults, however, say they are in favor of some degree of restrictions on abortion rights.

The top-line results certainly matter: By a nearly two-to-one margin, Americans want the legal protections currently in place to remain unchanged. That’s the sort of finding that carries broad political and electoral consequences.

But the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll also explored public attitudes by testing the limits of these opinions. For example, respondents were asked, “Please tell me if you support or oppose a law that allows abortion at any time during pregnancy in cases of rape or incest.” I thought the use of the phrase “at any time” might affect the results a bit, but nevertheless, 63 percent would support such a law, while 35 percent would not.

The whole poll is worth examining — it would take too long to note public attitudes on each of the assorted ideas — but pay special attention to the single most unpopular idea.

Respondents were asked, “Please tell me if you support or oppose a law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who assists a pregnant person in getting an abortion.” The results were entirely lopsided: 17 percent endorsed the proposal, while 80 percent opposed it.

In fact, 69 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of evangelical Christians, and 58 percent of opponents of abortion right all agreed: They’re against this.

And yet, the one anti-abortion idea that Americans hate most is gaining traction among some Republican policymakers. Indeed, it’s at the heart of the Texas GOP’s latest abortion ban.

In case anyone needs a refresher, what made Texas’ system so unusual was the extent to which Republican policymakers effectively created a vigilante system: If some random person learns that a Texan had an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — before many women even know they’re pregnant — he could file suit against the physician who performed the procedure. And the nurse who was in the room. And the friend who drove the woman to the health clinic. And the family member who gave the woman some money to help pay for the visit.

According to the Lone Star State’s abortion ban, a random person, effectively deputized by Texas Republicans, could sue any of these people for $10,000 — plus attorneys’ fees — turning anti-abortion activists into bounty hunters.

In March, Idaho followed in Texas’ footsteps with a similar abortion ban, and yesterday, Oklahoma Republicans also passed an abortion ban modeled after Texas’ bounty system.

As a Washington Post report explained, under the state’s latest ban, “those who could be sued include anyone who ‘performs or induces’ an abortion; anyone who ‘knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion,’ including paying for one; and anyone who even ‘intends to engage’ in either of the two actions above.”

Most Americans hate this entire approach. A striking number of Republicans clearly don’t care.