Can Americans Find Common Ground on Abortion?

Karlyn Bowman October 24, 2022

A cartoon of a red hand shaking a blue hand

Is finding common ground on abortion possible? For many pro-life and pro-choice activists who have been in the trenches on the issue for 50 years, the answer would likely be a resounding “no.” But two new surveys reveal the public is interested in finding common ground and demonstrate few Americans support either complete bans on abortion or unrestricted availability. What’s more, not only do Americans believe compromise is possible, they want to understand the views of those with whom they disagree.  

The August American Perspectives Survey asked two questions related to finding a compromise. In one, a solid majority, 58 percent, said it was possible to find common ground to compromise on the issue, while 40 percent did not. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents said this was possible, along with majorities of men and women and all age groups. The only Americans who reject compromise are those on the ideological periphery. Fifty-eight percent of people who describe themselves as “extremely liberal” and 60 percent of those who say they are “extremely conservative” believe compromise isn’t possible. Taken together, these groups represent only 10 percent of the overall public. The media like controversy, and they cover the extremes, obscuring a wide area for possible compromise.

Underscoring the value most people place on trying to find common ground, 53 percent of Americans say that when they disagree with someone on the abortion issue, it is best to try to better understand their point of view. Thirty-eight percent said it was better to avoid discussing it.

A survey conducted by Deseret News and Brigham Young University also finds considerable appetite for consensus. The survey finds a huge swath of the public rejects the idea of unrestricted availability of abortion and complete prohibition. The researchers asked people at what month legal abortion should be allowed with a range of 0 to 40 weeks, the researchers found that less than one in five (19 percent) adults favored no access to abortion at all (0 weeks) and wanted it to be always illegal. Fewer (7 percent) favored access through the end of pregnancy (40 weeks) and wanted it to be always legal. Seventy-two percent fell somewhere in the middle. In the poll, a plurality of both Republicans (58 percent) and Democrats (51 percent) favored extending abortion access through the second trimester.  

The views of activists tend to dominate coverage of abortion, but as these two surveys show there is a vast middle ground that sees the issue very differently. Most Americans believe abortion is a complicated and complex issue, and they largely reject legal and moral absolutes.  

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