The Gray Areas of U.S. Abortion Rights and Regulations: A Survey

We surveyed 1,000 Americans to reveal some of the deeper complexities in the ongoing controversy of U.S. abortion rights.

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Last updated: Jan 1st, 2023

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Key takeaways
The legal and moral gray areas of abortion: an overview
Abortion regulations and political affiliation by state
Abortion’s gray areas
Demographic breakdowns: gender, generation, and political affiliation
Medical emergencies
Sexual assault scenarios
Termination limits by trimester
Pro-choice vs. pro-life
Methodology
Fair use statement
Sources
US Abortion Rights and Regulations

Controversy around abortion rights has been growing increasingly more complicated as the U.S. 2022 midterm elections approach. The U.S. has been divided on the issue of abortion rights for decades, but never more so than now. Across the country, many advocates for the right to an abortion are growing concerned that the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade could cause a range of problems for those seeking abortions. Fear of legal ramifications for physicians, as well as a nationwide shortage of trained abortion providers, are just two of an untold number of such concerns.

Like many other political conversations, everyone has their own opinions on abortion rights. When is it okay to have the procedure, and under what circumstances? We wanted to know where the majority of people land on this issue, particularly in complex "gray areas" that are prone to disagreement, so we conducted a 1,000-person survey to find out. In terms of both general feelings about abortion and certain "gray areas" surrounding abortion rights and regulations, we found that opinions differed not only from state to state, but also between generations, across political and religious affiliations, and by gender.

We’ll cover sensitive topics in this article, including sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse. If you or someone you know has been impacted and needs support, we encourage you to contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Key takeaways

  • The split between pro-choice and pro-life respondents was almost exactly even (50.1% and 49.9%, respectively).
  • Just 17% of Gen Z respondents said they would have an abortion if they became pregnant after being sexually assaulted.
  • In terms of adult incest, nearly half of respondents (44.5%) believed the resulting pregnancy should not be carried to term.
  • The plurality of millennials (25.6%), Gen X (25.3%), and baby boomers (24.2%) would encourage their partner to have an abortion if they became pregnant after being sexually assaulted.
  • In terms of child abuse incest, 28.8% of women and 34.8% of men said the resulting pregnancy should be carried to term.

The legal and moral gray areas of abortion: an overview

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade , a number of states "trigger bans" immediately went into effect. Passed since the implementation of Roe v. Wade, these are legal abortion bans that were intended to "trigger" a total ban on abortion within a particular state if the Supreme Court ever overturned constitutional abortion protections.

In the wake of these changes, healthcare providers across the county have been put in an increasingly difficult position, stuck between a metaphorical rock — anti-abortion laws — and a hard place — the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). EMTALA is a law passed in 1986 requiring hospitals and physicians to provide abortions to women with emergency pregnancy complications.

The Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have continued to reassure wary medical professionals that the EMTALA supersedes state abortion bans: if there’s a danger to life, the act trumps state abortion laws. HHS has also made it clear that hospitals and physicians who do not comply with EMTALA requirements could end up facing civil fines or termination of federal programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The U.S. Department of Justice has even gone so far as to file a federal lawsuit challenging a law in Idaho that would place an almost total ban on abortion and leave physicians who comply with EMTALA’s guidelines open to criminal charges.

Clearly, we have found ourselves in a legal "gray area" surrounding abortion. We have also, it seems, found ourselves in a moral "gray area" in terms of the individual and collective feelings of Americans about abortion. This is why we created our survey: to get a better understanding of how Americans feel about abortion, especially in terms of issues such as sexual assault, incest, and life-threatening fetal complications. We posed situational questions asking about what participants would do in circumstances where abortion might be an option, as well as their personal thoughts and feelings about the matter.

Abortion regulations and political affiliation by state

Regulations and political affiliation by state

When the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade — a decision that had guaranteed the legal right to abortion for nearly 50 years — the ongoing legal dispute over abortion was passed down to the states in a flurry. Some states immediately moved to prohibit abortion under most if not all circumstances, while others moved swiftly to try and safeguard it based on their respective political affiliations and collective moral and religious views.

Current state legislation

For now, abortion remains legal, widely available, and likely to be protected in at least 20 states and the District of Columbia, but continued access to abortion in a handful of these states will largely depend on the coming midterm elections. In Pennsylvania and Michigan, for example, Democratic governors are continuing to push back against anti-abortion legislation proposed by Republicans. On the other hand, Florida recently passed a 15-week abortion ban that will still allow over 90% of abortions to continue, but there’s a chance Republican lawmakers will try to push further restrictions down the road.

Indiana became the first state to pass a near-total abortion ban after the Supreme Court handed down their decision, but the ban was temporarily blocked in state court. In Kansas, voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have eliminated abortion protections. And Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin tasked a group of anti-abortion lawmakers with writing legislation to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision.

As many states are cracking down, however, plenty of others have passed laws to protect their residents’ right to abortion. In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision, a number of states recently increased protections, while other states have hoped to preserve abortion rights by making changes to their state constitutions. Certain middle-ground states, such as New Mexico and New Hampshire, might lack definitive legal protection for abortion, but the legislatures in these states don’t seem to be in a hurry to ban abortions altogether.

Oregon, Washington, California, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Hawaii have all had expanded access programs designed to facilitate easy access to abortion services for many years. In 2019, New York passed a reproductive health act that protected the right to abortion under state law, just in case Roe v. Wade was ever overturned.

Most states with expanded access programs require both private insurance and Medicaid to cover the cost of abortion care. However, some expanded access states — such as Connecticut, Vermont, Washington, and Oregon — still have Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that impose various (often burdensome) legal requirements on physicians who perform abortions.

National opinions

According to two recent polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than half of American adults (57%) disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision. The vast majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (82%) disagree with the Court’s ruling, while most Republicans and GOP leaners (70%) agree. Unsurprisingly, they found that most women (62%) disapprove of the decision to end constitutional protection for abortion; men, they found, were slightly more divided: 52% were for abortion rights, and 47% were opposed.

At the moment, 84% of Democrats say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up from 72% in 2016 and 63% in 2007. But Republicans’ views have changed much less over time. Currently, 38% of Republicans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a decrease of only one percent since 2002.

The same old red-versus-blue story, however, isn’t that simple. Large swaths of Democrats have been shown to favor restrictions on abortion under certain circumstances, while certain Republican cohorts are in favor of legal abortions in some situations. These are the "gray areas" our survey hoped to shed some light on, including sexual assault, incest, or situations where pregnancy might be life-threatening.

Abortion’s gray areas

Abortion Gray Areas

Despite the fact abortion rates have been steadily declining in the U.S., according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, one in four women in the U.S. will likely have an abortion by age 45. To many Americans, this is not an issue of politics or personal opinion; abortion is simply an aspect of health care that should be accessible to everyone.

General beliefs

Of the 1,000 people we surveyed about their beliefs on abortion, we found an almost even split between those labeling themselves pro-choice (50.1%) and pro-life (49.9%). Of all respondents, too, a little over half (57.7%) considered themselves to be religious.

Of respondents who identified as Republican, 65.7% also identified as Christian, 18.4% identified as Catholic, and just 7.4% claimed to be not religious. Overall, respondents who identified as Democrat were less religious:

  • 45.8% Christian
  • 18.3% Catholic
  • 28.9% not religious

The Independents were the least religious group, with 44.2% claiming to be not religious, 37.2% identifying as Christian, and just 6.4% as Catholic.

When it came to participants’ thoughts on term limits for abortions, people were slightly less divided. 67.8% of all participants stated that abortion should be legal to perform until at least the end of the first trimester (1-13 weeks).

The majority of respondents (52.8%) also believed the morning-after pill (emergency contraception) was completely fine to take. An even greater majority (68.1%) said they personally know someone who has had an abortion.

We also discovered a range of beliefs about when life begins. About a quarter of respondents (21.2%) said life begins at birth, while 19.7% said life begins at conception (when the egg is fertilized). 16.5% said life begins during the first trimester of pregnancy (0-13 weeks), which is when a fetus develops a heartbeat (though it doesn’t, at this stage, have a brain).

Sexual assault

Overall, in terms of a pregnancy that is the result of a sexual assault, our survey respondents believed mothers should have the right to terminate the pregnancy up until 12.15 weeks (on average), or about the end of the first trimester. 6.3% of respondents, however, said they’d be comfortable terminating the pregnancy up to 40 weeks (nearly full-term).

If they were sexually assaulted and became pregnant themselves, 28% of respondents said they would get an abortion; 19.6% said they would take the pregnancy to term and keep the baby; and 25.4% said they would have the baby but give it up, either through adoption, by letting family or friends raise it, or by leaving it at a safe drop-off point, such as a fire station or hospital.

Out of the pool of respondents who said they’d get an abortion if they became pregnant after being sexually assaulted, almost half (48.9%) said they would give the same advice to their daughter, sister, mother, friend, or coworker; 46.1% would let the other person decide for themselves.

Of those who said they would, after being sexually assaulted, take their pregnancy to term — regardless of whether they were planning to keep the baby or give it away — 85.6% said they would give the same advice to their daughter, sister, mother, friend, or coworker; while just 11.6% would let the other person decide for themselves.

Were their wife, girlfriend, or partner, however, to become pregnant after being sexually assaulted:

  • 17% of respondents said they would encourage them to get an abortion
  • 19.7% said they’d let them decide for themselves
  • 16.2% said they’d encourage them to have the baby and keep it
  • 23.5% said they’d advise them to go through with the pregnancy but then — if they wanted — give the baby up

Fetal complications

Half of respondents (53.6%) believed that pregnancy should not be carried to term if the fetus has medical conditions guaranteeing death shortly after birth. Well over half of respondents (64.9%) believed a pregnancy should not be carried to term if the fetus dies while inside the womb.

If maintaining the pregnancy were going to jeopardize the life of the mother, the plurality of respondents (46%) believed the mother should be the one to decide what to do. Aside from that group:

  • 24.8% believed an abortion should be performed
  • 13.5% believed the mother should go through with the pregnancy and (hopefully) deliver the baby
  • 7% believed it would depend on when the pregnancy was discovered
  • 5.7% believed it would depend on whether or not delivery will undoubtedly kill the mother
  • 3% believed it would depend on whether or not the pregnancy was also viable

Incest

When it came to hypothetical instances of adult incest, nearly half of respondents (44.5%) thought the pregnancy should not be carried to term, and another 40.4% thought the pregnancy should be allowed to reach full term. 15.1% believed that it would depend on when the pregnancy was discovered.

When it came to cases of incest related to child abuse, however, more than half of respondents (52.8%) believed the pregnancy should not be carried to term. About a third (32.4%) believed the pregnancy should be allowed to reach full term, 7.9% believed it would depend on when the pregnancy was discovered, and just 6.9% believed it would depend on the age of the victim.

Demographic breakdowns: gender, generation, and political affiliation

Abortion Demographic Breakdowns

Despite the fact that the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, there is still a wide range of opinions on what exactly those circumstances should be. A lot more support is to be found, for example, for the more pro-choice position that abortion should be legal for women whose lives are at risk; but there is much less support for the legalization of abortions during the third trimester.

As we compiled the data from our survey, we found differences in opinion across political affiliations, religious preferences, genders, and, perhaps most notably, generations.

Note that some numbers don’t add up to 100%. That’s because participants either opted out of the question or chose a non-majority option (such as a nonbinary gender or Independent party affiliation).

Here’s what our generational cohorts looked like:

During our analysis, we discovered a strong correlation between participants’ religious beliefs and their beliefs about abortion. The most religious individuals, as well as the political party (Republican) and generation (Gen Z) with the highest proportions of religious individuals, appeared to be the most hesitant to make allowances for "gray area" abortions.

Medical emergencies

We asked participants about their thoughts on abortion in a few different medical emergency situations.

If a fetus has medical conditions guaranteeing death shortly after birth (within a few days), one-third of baby boomers (33.3%) believe the pregnancy should be carried to term, as did about half of millennials (46.6%) and a little over a third of Gen X (36.6%). When it came to the Gen Z cohort, however — of which 77.5% also claimed to be religious — 70.7% believed that even if the baby were guaranteed to die shortly after birth, the pregnancy should still be carried to term. Men and women had nearly identical feelings, with 45.5% of women and 46.4% of men answering "yes".

The majority of respondents who identified as Christian (62.4%) or Catholic (53.8%) also answered in the affirmative, whereas less than a tenth of those who identified as not religious (8.3%) also answered "yes" to this question.

The majority of self-identified Republicans who were surveyed (67.3%), as well as a smaller cohort of Democrats (39.4%) and Independents (34.3%), also answered "yes" to this question.

Fewer people agreed that pregnancy should be carried to term if a fetus dies within the womb. Just over a third of our survey participants (35.1%) answered "yes" to this question. Yet within that group of respondents — the ones who thought a pregnancy should be carried to term even after the fetus dies in utero — only a fraction of them (1.6%) stated they were not religious; the others identified as either Christian (49.6%) or Catholic (40.6%).

Keeping to this trend, just 17.2% of baby boomers (the least religious generation) said that even after a fetus dies in the womb, the pregnancy should still be carried to term. In comparison, a solid majority of the Gen Z cohort (64.9%) answered "yes" to this question, while Gen X (23.5%) and millennial (31.8%) groups landed somewhere between the two. Strengthening the correlation between religion and inflexibility in terms of "gray area" abortions, was the fact that of the Gen Z respondents who answered "yes" to this question, 96.8% also identified as being religious.

Again, we found that Democrats (32.6%) and Independents (19.2%) were more closely aligned than Republicans (50.5%) when asked if they believed a pregnancy should be carried to term after the fetus died in utero. In similar proportions, a third of women (33.3%) and only slightly more men (35.2%) answered "yes" to this question.

Incest

Overall, 40.4% of survey participants believed that pregnancy should be carried to term in the case of incest between adults. Of that relative minority, just 7.5% also claimed to be not religious; whereas 54.4% identified as Christian and 48.1% identified as Catholic.

Compared to Democrats (35.9%) and Independents (30.8%), Republicans (55.6%) were the political party most in favor of a pregnancy that was the result of incest being carried to term.

The Gen Z cohort was, again, the generation found to be the least flexible when it came to extenuating circumstances, with a healthy majority (69.6%) claiming an abortion would not be warranted in this situation. Around half (or less) of the other generational groups — millennials (37.1%), Gen Z (27.2%), and baby boomers (27.6%) — felt the same way. Notably, nearly half of men (44.7%) but only a little over a third of women (35%) answered "yes" to this question.

A somewhat smaller percentage of our total respondents (32.4%) believed that a pregnancy resulting from the rape of a child should be carried to term. And, again, we found that only a small fraction of respondents who identified as not religious (2.4%) also answered "yes" to this question; whereas 44.8% of those who answered "yes" identified as Christian and 39.4% identified as Catholic.

Republicans (44.1%) — again, more so than Democrats (29.7%) or Independents (22.7%) — answered "yes" to this question; as did Gen Z (58.1%), compared to millennials (30.1%), Gen X (22.5%), and baby boomers (13.8%). And, in continuously decreasing numbers, slightly less than a third of women (28.8%) and a bit more than a third of men (34.8%) answered "yes" to this question.

The rise of Gen Z activism

According to the Pew Research Center, only a quarter of Americans under the age of 30 believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. But as you can see above, the majority of our Gen Z participants share this view. Outlawing abortion in the United States, to them, seems to be a matter not only of religion but also of a larger push for social justice and equal rights. Even if these young Americans can’t seem to agree on whose rights should matter more, they have one aspect of their activism in common: both groups believe they are fighting for equal rights.

Sexual assault scenarios

Personal sexual assault

We asked our participants an incredibly difficult question: if they became pregnant due to sexual assault, what would they do?

When it comes to a pregnancy that is the result of being sexually assaulted personally, the political parties begin to fall out of alignment. The plurality of Democrats (45.6%) and Independents (47.3%) claimed they would terminate the pregnancy by getting an abortion, whereas the plurality of Republicans (32.8%) said they would carry the pregnancy to term and then give the baby up for adoption. Only about half of the Democrats who would get an abortion themselves (45.6%) claimed they would give someone close to them the same advice (24.4%).

If faced with the same situation, less than a quarter of Gen Z respondents (17%) said they would terminate the unwanted pregnancy by getting an abortion — a significantly lower percentage compared to millennials (45.3%), Gen X (45.8%), and baby boomers (37%).

Almost twice as many Gen Z respondents (30.3%) said that if they were to become pregnant after being sexually assaulted, they would carry the pregnancy to term and then give the baby up for adoption. This was a less popular option for the other generations, shared by 23.8% of millennials, 19.7% of Gen X, and 25.9% of baby boomers. An even less popular option for all generations — Gen Z (17.6%), millennials (8.1%), Gen X (6.3%), and baby boomers (11.1%) — would be having the baby than giving it up through some means other than adoption, such as letting a family member raise it or leaving it a fire station or hospital.

A partner’s sexual assault

When it came to their wife, girlfriend, or partner becoming pregnant after being sexually assaulted, the generations were clearly divided amongst themselves on what should be done. The largest proportion of millennials (29.5%), Gen X (28.8%), and baby boomers (32.3%) believed the decision should be left to their partner, whereas the plurality of Gen Z believed they should go through with the pregnancy and keep the baby (33.1%).

The next most popular option for millennials (25.6%), Gen X (25.3%), and baby boomers (24.2%) was to encourage the person to have an abortion; but the next most popular option for Gen Z (31.4%) was to carry the pregnancy to term then give the baby up for adoption.

Men and women, too, were divided amongst themselves regarding what should be done in this situation. The plurality of women (27.6%) said they would let the person make the decision on their own, while the plurality of men (26.4%) said they would encourage their partner to get an abortion.

The next most popular option for men was to let the person decide on their own (23.9%), while for women it was to encourage the person to go through with the pregnancy and keep the baby (22.4%). The least popular option for both men (11.1%) and women (10.6%) asking their partner to carry the pregnancy to term before giving up the baby by some means other than adoption.

When it came to the various political parties, the plurality of Democrats (27.3%) and Independents (32.8%) would let the person decide on their own, while the most popular option for Republicans (26.4%) was to carry the pregnancy to term then give the baby up for adoption. Interestingly, just 1.7% of Independents claimed they would suggest carrying the pregnancy to term and then give up the baby by some means other than adoption, compared to 10.5% of Democrats and 15.5% of Republicans.

The grayest part of the law

As of October 2022, 15 states have eliminated nearly all abortion services and four other states are trying (but their bans have so far been blocked in court). Part of the confusion experienced by citizens and lawmakers is that much of the language in these laws remains unclear. They don’t outline explicitly how physicians are supposed to validate the claim of a rape victim who is seeking an abortion. And as state and federal laws continue to tangle, many healthcare providers are concerned about prosecution.

Right now, there is no clearly defined way to navigate this: Georgia, Idaho, and Mississippi, for example, all have abortion exceptions in the case of rape, but also require the victim to file a police report before requesting an abortion.

With all this confusion surrounding the legality of post-rape abortions at both the state and federal levels, it’s hardly surprising that our survey turned up such a range of opinions. In regards to what should be done if you or your partner were to become pregnant as the result of a sexual assault, beliefs differed not only from state to state, but between the generations, by political and religious affiliation, and by gender.

Termination limits by trimester

Termination limits by trimester

When asked during which trimester it should be legal to perform abortions, the plurality of survey participants (34.6%) believed it should be legal to perform an abortion until the end of the second trimester.

The most common answer to this question for both Gen Z (41.9%) and Gen X (35.9%) was the first trimester (0-13 weeks), while the plurality of millennials (37%) and baby boomers (35.6%) said it was the second (14-26 weeks).

When it came to the individual beliefs of men and women in this area, the biggest difference we uncovered was that 13.6% of men said they did not believe in an abortion at any point throughout the pregnancy, while only 9.7% of women said the same.

Abortion-friendly Republicans

The plurality of Republicans (37.1%) and Independents (35.5%) believed the end of the first trimester should be the limit for legal abortions, whereas the plurality of Democrats (38.4%) believed the second trimester should be the legal limit.

As you can see, there’s a gap of only a few percentage points between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents on the issue of trimester limits for abortions. This coming together, so to speak, could be due to a change in the tide in terms of many Republicans’ stances on abortion.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling — and with midterm elections rapidly approaching — many Republican voters and lawmakers have adopted a softer approach to abortion rights, mainly in an attempt to win votes in certain key states. This shift comes amid a violent and ongoing backlash to the Court’s decision. And seeing a state like Kansas, which has historically been red, vote in a referendum to keep some abortion rights has buoyed the hopes of many Democrats as the midterms grow near.

A number of other states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, have seen a growing number of women switch from red to blue since the Supreme Court’s decision, and many Republicans are beginning to worry about the cost of these abortion controversies in November’s polls.

Pro-choice vs. pro-life

In a Gallup poll from May 2022, participants were asked if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional protection of abortion rights, in your opinion, would this be a good thing or a bad thing? This national study found that:

  • 63% said it would be a bad thing
  • 32% said it would be a good thing
  • 4% had no opinion

Within our survey, 50.1% of our respondents claimed to be pro-choice and 49.9% claimed to be pro-life. Within those evenly divided margins, we found a range of other comparisons. Respondents who identified as pro-life felt comfortable terminating a pregnancy up until five weeks (the week many women discover they’re pregnant) when that pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault, whereas respondents who identified as pro-choice claimed they would be comfortable terminating a pregnancy up until 17.8 weeks (on average).

The Gen Z cohort we surveyed was 40.4% female, and of that percentage, a surprising majority (70.9%) claimed to be pro-life. Overall, 73.8% of Gen Z claimed to be pro-life, and 96.5% of those respondents also identified as being somewhat religious (mostly Christian).

We were also surprised to find that marginally more Gen X men (55.9%) were pro-choice than Gen X women (55.3%). And the most pro-choice generation overall was, interestingly, the Baby Boomers (60.9%).

Methodology

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, we wanted to know where Americans landed on the issue of abortion rights. We surveyed 1,000 people to find out what people thought about some of the "gray areas" of abortion and found that opinions regarding abortion rights and regulations differed not only from state to state, but between the generations, by political and religious affiliation, and by gender.

Fair use statement

Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based suggestions, and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the 2022 midterm elections, we wanted to get a sense of where Americans landed on the issue of abortion rights. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. As such, please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as Innerbody.com.

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