WASHINGTON - Nationwide public opinion on abortion has remained largely unchanged for the last two decades, but that overall steadiness masks a widened gap between conservative and liberal parts of the country, new polling data indicate.
Opposition to legal abortion has significantly increased since the mid-1990s in the most antiabortion part of the country, the south-central swath of states that stretches from Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky west to Texas and Oklahoma, according to new data released by the Pew Research Center.
In the mid-1990s, slightly more than half the people in those states said that abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” circumstances, according to polling done by the Washington Post and ABC News. Now, in the Pew survey, which asked the same questions, that share is down to 40%.
A smaller decline in the percentage saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases shows up in data from the Midwestern states of Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas.
Both of those regions have also become more solidly Republican during that period. Of the 13 states that have passed laws attempting to ban abortion at 22 weeks or earlier in a woman’s pregnancy, all but five are in those two parts of the country.
By contrast, support for legal abortion has increased slightly in New England, with the share saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time rising from 70% in the 1990s to 75% now in those states. The six New England states have the highest percentage of support for legal abortion, followed by the Pacific Coast and the mid-Atlantic states, all regions where Democrats tend to dominate.
Opinions on abortion in those three regions are significantly more lopsided than in other parts of the country, with supporters of legal abortion out-numbering opponents by more than 2 to 1.
The industrial states around the Great Lakes and the south Atlantic states stretching from Virginia down to Florida remain closely divided and have not changed significantly. About half the people in those states say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with about 4 in 10 saying it should be illegal in all or most cases.