A Broad Consensus

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How many Americans favor the unrestricted access to abortion that is now guaranteed by Roe v. Wade? Only 8 percent, according to a new nationwide survey conducted for the Knights of Columbus by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. In fact, 60 percent said that abortion should be allowed — at most — in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, or that abortion should never be permitted. This is despite the fact that such circumstances account for fewer than 3 percent of all abortions in the United States.

When Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson announced the results at a press conference in Rome Oct. 14, he explained, “When given the chance to specify the circumstances in which abortion ought to be legal, [Americans] overwhelmingly do not support the central holding of Roe v. Wade.”


The poll, which was titled “Moral Issues and Catholic Voters” and conducted Sept. 24-Oct. 3, went beyond asking people to simply identify themselves as “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Respondents were also asked, “Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion on abortion?” Six choices were then offered: “any time during pregnancy,” “during the first six months,” “during the first three months,” “only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother,” “only to save the life of the mother,” and “never permitted.”

According to the poll, only 16 percent said they would allow abortions after the first trimester. And more than 75 percent of Americans, including 84 percent of practicing Catholics, favor parental notification when someone under the age of 18 is planning to have an abortion.

An equally dramatic finding revealed what people really mean when they say they are “pro-choice.” Although half of those surveyed identified themselves as pro-choice, only 15 percent of those who describe themselves as pro-choice favor allowing abortion at any time during a pregnancy. Meanwhile, 71 percent of those pro-choice voters went on to say that abortion should be significantly restricted to at least the first trimester.

For this reason, Supreme Knight Anderson observed that the term “pro-choice” is needlessly polarizing and “masks the fact that there is broad consensus among Americans that abortion should be significantly restricted.”


The findings also highlighted the differences between Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis and those who do not. According to the poll, 65 percent of the Catholic population attends Mass at least “once or twice a month.” Of those, 59 percent describe themselves as “pro-life.” In contrast, only 29 percent of non-practicing Catholics describe themselves as such.

Of note, the study found that non-practicing Catholics are more likely to call themselves “pro-choice” than the general U.S. population. Whereas 65 percent of non-practicing Catholics consider themselves to be pro-choice, 50 percent of Americans say the same thing. Similarly, while 70 percent of Americans, including 75 percent of practicing Catholics, oppose same-sex marriage, 46 percent of non-practicing Catholics favor it.

Supreme Knight Anderson said the distinction should be considered when talking about the “Catholic vote” in the results of this year’s elections, as it challenges the idea of a “monolithic” Catholic voting bloc.

“It seems clear that Catholics who are no longer practicing their faith hold positions that are far outside the mainstream of Catholicism and have significant disagreements with the moral teaching of the Church on fundamental issues,” he added.