Public Support for Pro-Choice Abortion Policies in the Nation and States: Changes and Stability After the Roe and Doe Decisions

“The Supreme Court,” according to the legendary Mr. Dooley, “follows the election returns.” In 1973, the Court’s two landmark decisions, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, struck down statutes in the forty-six states where abortions were not permitted under any circumstances or were allowed only to save the life of the woman during the first three months of pregnancy. There had been a considerable increase in the level of support for the pro-choice position among the public in the few years preceding Roe and Doe. But did the decisions themselves lead to even more public support for that position? What variations do we find among the states and where has the increase in public support for the pro-choice position seemed the most dramatic? Finally, what has been the impact of the abortion controversy on the political process?

We shall examine these questions here and suggest some tentative answers. First, we shall consider the available national poll evidence. Second, we shall examine variations in political opinion on abortion policies in the states. Finally, we shall examine the abortion controversy as it has affected legislative decision making and electoral politics. When we consider the variations among the states, we shall present estimates of state public opinion on abortion policy through a computer simulation technique, developed by the second author and refined jointly by us, which permits us to get approximate figures on state opinions from national surveys.