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Opinion Access to abortion is a unifying issue

An abortion-rights rally at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on June 24. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
4 min

Who could have guessed that preserving access to abortion would be such a unifying position?

Given how divided our country is, and how loud voices seeking to criminalize the procedure have become, one might not expect abortion bans to be so unpopular. Yet polling shows that support for abortion care is remarkably consistent.

A recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) finds, “Just under two-thirds of Americans (64%) say that abortion should be legal in most or almost all cases,” including 68 percent of independents. Only one-third say it should be illegal in most or almost all cases. Even among Republicans, 36 percent favor legal abortion. And the percentage of the party that favors banning all or most abortions has declined from 21 to 14 percent in just over a year.

In fact, majority support for abortion access cuts across gender, racial, ethnic, educational attainment and age lines. That support also spans most religious groups. The PRRI finds, “White evangelical Protestants (27%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (27%), Latter-day Saints (32%), and Hispanic Protestants (44%) are the only major religious groups in which less than half of adherents say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.”

Also interesting is the geographic breadth of support for legal abortion. The PRRI reports:

Majorities of residents in 43 states and the District of Columbia say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and in 13 of those states and in DC, more than seven in ten residents support legal abortion. There are only seven states in which less than half of residents say abortion should be legal in most or all cases: South Dakota (42%), Utah (42%), Arkansas (43%), Oklahoma (45%), Idaho (49%), Mississippi (49%), and Tennessee (49%). Residents of nearly all states have become more likely to say abortion should be legal in most or all cases since PRRI’s last state-level data analysis, in 2018.

So it should come as no surprise that proposals to enact a national ban are wildly unpopular. The report finds: “A majority of Americans (53%) say Congress should pass a national law preserving a right to abortion, compared with 12% who say Congress should pass a national law banning abortion. About one-third (32%) say abortion law should be left to the states.”

There is every reason, it seems, for Democrats to lean into the abortion issue, as many did during the midterm elections. Moreover, they should consider discussing it not as a cultural issue but as an economic one. Data has already shown that women denied abortions have worse financial and health outcomes than those who had access to the procedure.

Moreover, abortion bans risk a state’s economic future, as Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) argues. In his second inaugural address, he made the case that it’s not “only” women who will pay the price of the ban in his state, which automatically went into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

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“If we want to make sure we can compete for talented workers and businesses against other states,” Evers said, “then we ought to start by making sure that, when workers and businesses look to relocate to Wisconsin, part of that calculus doesn’t include themselves, their loved ones or their workers being stripped of their reproductive freedom just for moving here.”

Access to abortion, as well as the cultural milieu associated with that position, is certainly one of many factors people consider when determining where to live, work or start a business. It is also noteworthy that states with abortion bans tend have a cluster of other negative attributes. For example, such states generally have not expanded Medicaid; have higher murder and poverty rates and lower minimum wages; dominate the lists of worst schools in the country; and claim a disproportionate number of counties with the lowest life expectancy. As a report by Asha Banerjee of the Economic Policy Institute confirms, “the states enacting abortion bans are the same ones that are economically disempowering workers through other channels.”

All of this should be part of economic messaging for Democrats, as well as their support for public investment in education, better access to health care and good-paying jobs. They might want to point out that legal abortion is part of the recipe for economic success.

It has been nearly 30 years since Hillary Clinton declared in a speech that “Women’s rights are human rights.” That is just as true today: When women enjoy basic human rights and self-determination, they, their families and their countries flourish. Democrats shouldn’t be shy about saying it.