North Carolinians support 20-week abortion ban, split on further restrictions, WRAL News Poll shows
The survey of North Carolina adults found that 50% of residents favor a ban on abortion at 20 weeks but are divided on a proposed 15-week ban. A plurality of residents oppose restrictions at six weeks of pregnancy.Posted — Updated
The survey of 1,100 adults in the state, conducted from Sept. 28 through Sunday, shows residents nearly evenly split on a federal bill Republicans have introduced to ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The poll found North Carolinians largely oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal abortion protections outlined in Roe v. Wade and laws that would restrict abortion at six weeks. The poll, conducted in partnership with SurveyUSA, reported a credibility interval of 3.5 percentage points. A credibility interval is similar to a margin of error but takes into account more factors and is considered by some pollsters to be a more accurate measurement of statistical certainty.
Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political scientist, said abortion has become an animating issue for Democrats and Republicans since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The high court’s decision, which leaves it up to states to set their own abortion policy, has sharpened focus on state legislative races.
If Republicans are able to capture veto-proof majorities in the North Carolina General Assembly, they could enact tighter restrictions over the objections of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has stifled the GOP’s anti-abortion proposals since 2017. He said Democratic candidates and activists are demanding specifics from GOP candidates who could shape future abortion policy.
“The big issue is: Where do Republicans tend to straddle the line in terms of where an abortion should be cut off as opposed to a complete ban?” Bitzer said. “If Republican candidates aren't going to be talking about that, I think that's the biggest issue that Democrats will hammer them on.”
A plurality of respondents to the WRAL poll said they disapprove of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe, with 47% disapproving, 37% approving and 15% unsure whether they approve or disapprove. There were strong partisan gaps in responses.
Two-thirds of Democrats, 53% of independents and 27% of Republicans disapproved of the high court’s decision. Twenty-three percent of Democrats, 35% of independents and and 60% of Republicans approved.
After the high court’s ruling this summer, North Carolina was able to implement a law banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Half of respondents supported the 20-week ban, while 35% opposed it.
Tara Romano, executive director of Durham-based advocacy group Pro-Choice North Carolina, said voters should be concerned that Republican state lawmakers next year may further restrict access to the medical procedure.
“We've currently got this 20-week ban,” Romano said. “We don't anticipate that that is going to be what the anti-abortion lawmakers want to stay at. They are going to want to introduce, probably at some point, a complete ban.”
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore hope to take up the issue next year and have GOP supermajorities in each chamber to act on their policy aims. Moore has expressed a desire to restrict abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, whereas Berger has advocated for no general access to abortion about 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
Meanwhile, some Republicans in Congress are advocating for a nationwide abortion ban at 15 weeks. North Carolinians are less supportive of efforts to restrict at earlier stages of a pregnancy, the WRAL poll shows.
Asked about the 15-week ban being proposed at the federal level, 44% of respondents supported the legislation and 43% opposed it. Thirty-five percent said they’d back laws banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and 49% said they’d oppose such a law.
Tami Fitzgerald is executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, a conservative group that opposes abortion. She disputed the findings of decreased support for abortion restrictions. She said she thinks support for abortion restrictions increases when respondents aren’t asked about the issue in the context of a ban and are instead first presented with information about sensory traits a fetus gradually posseses over the course of pregnancy. Even so, Fitzgerald acknowledged voters are deeply divided.
“It's about split evenly on 15 weeks, but I think you have a clear indication here that people in North Carolina would at least support a 15-week limitation on abortion,” Fitzgerald said.
Which party has the political edge?
Newly drawn legislative boundaries in place this year will give Republicans a decent shot at reclaiming supermajorities in the state Senate, while gaining a supermajority in the state House will be a tougher lift.
Democrats are likelier than Republicans to consider abortion their top issue this election, but they also care deeply about the economy.
“The main issue driving voters to the polls this election cycle is not abortion,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s the economy. It’s the price of gas, it's the price of food, the interest rates. I think that people from both parties are motivated to have change at the federal level, and that will equate to some wins at the state level.”
Fitzgerald is optimistic about prospects of veto-proof support for Republicans in the General Assembly, but said it is too early to say what additional abortion restrictions could look like.
“Overriding Governor Cooper's veto is very important,” Fitzgerald said. “Winning some more seats in the House and the Senate this session is very important for the issue of protections for unborn babies.”
Romano thinks Democrats should discuss abortion in the context of family planning and a potentially lesser ability for women to make health care choices under GOP supermajorities. She urged voters not to become disillusioned by the possibility of heightened restrictions and to instead use it as a motivation to show up.
“There's a lot of reasons why people make decisions around accessing abortion,” Romano said. “That can include issues around the economy [and] issues around their health and safety. I think voters can be animated by all those things at one time and bring all that with them when they go to the polls.”
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