Poll: Most Catholic voters favor abortion restrictions
The scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the court released its decision in the Dobbs abortion case on June 24, 2022. Pro-abortion demonstrators gradually made up a decided majority of the crowd as the day wore on. / Katie Yoder/CNA
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 14, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).
The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a grave evil and is never acceptable at any stage of pregnancy. But just 9% of U.S. Catholic voters hold that view, a new EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll shows.
Twice as many (18%) — or nearly 1 in 5 — said that abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy.
At the same time, the poll shows that a majority of Catholic voters (82%) support some kind of restriction on abortion. Also, a majority say they are less likely to back a political candidate who supports abortion at any time during pregnancy.
The online survey, conducted June 15-23 by RealClear Opinion Research, expands on a sample of 1,757 Catholic likely voters. It carries a 95% credibility level of plus or minus 2.58 percentage points.
The poll’s finding that fewer than 10% of Catholic voters are in accord with the Church’s teaching on abortion underscores the difficulties faced by pro-life leaders in the Church.
“There is clearly work to be done in catechizing Catholics on the reality that our faith calls us to wholly reject the violence of abortion, an effort that has been greatly frustrated by politicians who confuse the laity by claiming to embrace both their faith and abortion extremism,” Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, told CNA.
“But overall these numbers show that despite that, Catholics, like Americans more broadly, welcome a post-Roe world.”
The survey asked Catholic voters a variety of questions related to abortion, including abortion limits, Catholic teaching on abortion, the positions of political candidates and President Joe Biden, Roe v. Wade, conscience exceptions for health care workers, and parental consent for abortion for minors.
These voters practice their faith to varying degrees. Forty percent reported attending Mass at least once a week, with another 40% attending monthly to yearly.
Only 20% agreed that they accept all of the Church's teachings and live their lives accordingly, with another 35% saying they generally accept most of the Church's teachings and try to live accordingly.
Here’s how they responded, by the numbers.
*Abortion in general*
A majority of Catholic voters — 82% — agreed that abortion should be limited to some extent. A plurality (32%) said abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. A smaller percentage, 9%, said abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the woman. Another 9% believe abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance.
Of Catholic voters, 8% said abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of a pregnancy and 24% said abortion should be allowed only during the first three months.
Nearly 1 in 5 Catholic voters (18%) said that abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy.
“This polling shows that Catholics, like Americans, reject the abortion extremism that prevailed in this country for 50 years under the Roe regime,” McGuire told CNA. “Only one in five polled believe abortion should be legal for any reason at any time, which was what Roe permitted,” she said of the recently-overturned 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
A previous EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll of Catholic registered voters in 2020 found that a majority (51%) of Catholic voters said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 31% saying it should be legal except for late-term cases and 20% saying it should always be legal.
These new numbers echo polling of the general U.S. population on abortion. A Pew Research Center survey from March found that 19% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all cases, while 8% said it should be illegal in all cases. More recent Gallup data from May found that 35% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal under any circumstances while 13% said it should be illegal in all circumstances.
The Pew Research Center data also looked at Catholic adults. Thirteen percent said abortion should be legal in all cases, while 10% said it should be illegal in all cases. Those percentages changed when looking at those who attend Mass at least once a week: 4% said abortion should be legal in all cases, and 24% said it should be illegal in all cases.
The EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll also breaks down abortion data by Catholic voters’ adherence to Catholic teaching as well as by how frequently they attend Mass.
“[T]he questions about favoring restrictions on abortion are meaningful in terms of understanding Catholic voters only when the respondents are sorted by Mass attendance or whether they are practicing Catholics,” Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Person and Identity Project and the Kate O'Beirne Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA.
Among political parties, a plurality of Catholic voters who identified as Republican and a plurality of independents or unaffiliated voters said that abortion should be permitted only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life. A plurality of Democrats (28%) said that abortion should be allowed only during the first three months of pregnancy, closely followed by Democrats who said abortion should be allowed at any time of pregnancy (27%).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes official Church teaching, recognizes abortion as a “crime against human life” and states that human life “must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.”
A majority of Catholic voters (65%) said that they believe that supporting abortion conflicts with Catholic teaching, while 25% said they did not believe abortion support conflicts with Catholic teaching. Ten percent said they did not know.
McGuire said the findings showed that a “solid majority of Catholics actually understand Church teaching which states that a pro-choice position is in direct conflict with the faith.”
“President Biden has done much to confuse Catholics and Americans more broadly by claiming to be both a devout Catholic and championing abortion at the same time,” she added. “But as Pope Francis recently pointed out, this position is ‘incoherent,’ and the polling suggests that Catholics actually understand and agree.”
The poll found that a majority of Catholic voters (60%) are less likely to support political candidates who support abortion at any time during a pregnancy. That includes a majority of Republicans and a majority of independents and unaffiliated voters. Democrats were split between more likely and less likely.
A minority (32%) of Catholic voters are more likely to back political candidates who support abortion at any time.
“Politicians should pay attention to the finding that 60% of Catholic voters are ‘less likely’ to support a candidate who supports abortion,” Hasson told CNA.
“Taking a pro-life stand is the right thing to do, but it’s also a winning position,” she added. “Even voters who favor some exceptions dislike hypocritical or weaselly politicians who don’t have the courage to stand up for their beliefs. The message here is to speak the truth boldly. Do the right thing.”
McGuire called these results “consistent with other polling that shows that the overwhelming majority of people reject the abortion extremism that Democrats have made a core part of their party’s platform.”
Likewise, a majority (53%) are less likely to support political candidates who support taxpayer funding of abortion. Thirty-five percent said that they were more likely to support those candidates.
A plurality of Catholic voters (48%) said they were less likely to back political candidates who support mandating that Catholic organizations provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Thirty-three percent said they were more likely.
*Biden and the Hyde Amendment*
A growing number of Democrats, including Biden, have called for an end to the Hyde Amendment. The provision approved annually by Congress prohibits federal funding — taxpayers’ dollars — from going toward abortion, with the exceptions of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
Only 39% of Catholic voters said they were familiar with Biden’s position on the use of federal funds for abortion. Still, 55% of Catholic voters said Biden supports federal funds being used to fund abortions, and 15% said Biden opposes the use of federal funds.
*Roe v. Wade*
Catholic voters shared their positions on Roe v. Wade in this survey, right before the Supreme Court overturned the case decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. That decision leaves abortion policy and legislation up to each state.
If Roe were overturned, 62% said federal and state legislators would determine how to regulate abortion and 24% thought abortion would immediately become illegal everywhere in the United States.
At the same time, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to revisit the Roe v. Wade decision, 47% believed that it should uphold Roe and 42% said it should reverse Roe.
Among Catholic voters, 58% said health care workers should not be obligated to engage in procedures that they object to — such as abortion — based on moral or religious grounds, while 30% said they should.
A majority — 68% — said parental consent should be required for girls under the age of 18 to get an abortion. Twenty-three percent said it should not.