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As Abortion Debate Resurfaces, Americans Remain 'Remarkably Split'

The Republican takeover of the U.S. House and statehouses across the country has helped launch a new chapter in the nation's long-running debate over abortion.

And as NPR's Julie Rovner reports on Wednesday's All Things Considered,there's a move afoot to legally redefine when personhood itself begins — to the time when a sperm fertilizes an egg. A change like that would have broad legal ramifications.

We wanted to gauge the national mood on abortion as the legislative action started to heat up. So in the first half of March, we worked with Thomson Reuters on a poll about Americans' attitudes toward abortion, including its legality and whether insurers should pay for the procedure.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said abortion should remain legal in all or most cases. That leaves almost as many people — 48 percent — who said abortion should be against the law in all or most cases.

Excluding the legality of abortion, do people feel that abortion is wrong? A majority — 59 percent — answered yes. Forty-one percent said no. As income and the level of education rose among respondents, the likelihood that someone would say abortion was wrong decreased.

So should laws about abortion in this country be changed? Some 36 percent of those polled said things should stay as they are, and 18 percent said restrictions should be eased. Forty-six percent said the laws should be stricter.

When asked about insurance coverage for abortion, about 53 percent of people said private insurance should pay some or all of the costs associated with the procedure. For women who get government assistance in paying for private insurance, a majority — 58 percent — of those surveyed said abortion shouldn't be covered.

"The nation remains remarkably split on whether abortions should be legal, and then as a consequence of that, whether abortions should be covered as part of an insurance plan," said Dr. Raymond Fabius, chief medical officer at Thomson Reuters, of the poll's findings. "While the majority of those surveyed thought private insurance plans should cover all or most of the cost of an abortion," only 42 percent thought people whose private insurance is bought with financial help from the government should have abortions covered.

The telephone survey of 3,013 adults was conducted during the first two weeks of March. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. For the full results and the text of the questions, go here.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.
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