Opposition to abortion in the South has grown markedly in the past 20
years even as other parts of the nation — such as New England — have
seen support rise, reflecting political polarization.
By Linda Feldmann
WASHINGTON — Opinion on abortion in the United States has held mostly
steady for the past two decades, but regional differences are
widening, according to the Pew Research Center.
That growing regional divide comes as many of the states in
conservative regions add new laws regulating abortion doctors and
clinics. In particular, the South Central region — Alabama, Arkansas,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas — has
seen significant growth in opposition to abortion since 1995, Pew
“The most important trend in this report is that the balance has
flipped” in the South Central part of the country, says Carroll
Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center. “You always
saw less support for legal abortion in South Central, but since the
’90s, it’s flipped from modestly in favor to 12 points against.”
In that region, 40 percent of adults surveyed in 2012 and 2013 said
abortion should be legal in all or most cases, versus 52 percent who
said it should be illegal in all or most cases. In 1995 and 1996, 52
percent of Southerners supported abortion rights in all or most cases
and 45 percent said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
Exactly why that shift has occurred is open to conjecture. Some
analysts point to technology, such as growing use of sonograms early
in pregnancy, as one explanation. The South has long been known for
its high levels of religiosity, particularly evangelical Christianity.
The growing polarization of views on abortion also reflects the
polarization of politics in the US between red and blue states, and in
The most liberal region on abortion is New England, where 75 percent
of adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 20
percent say it should be illegal. In the Pacific Coast region (Alaska,
California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington), 65 percent favor legal
abortion. In the mid-Atlantic (District of Columbia, Delaware,
Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), the figure is 61
percent. In the Mountain West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New
Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming), it’s 59 percent.
A national Pew survey conducted July 17-21 found that 54 percent of
Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 40
percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases. In 1995-96, the
figures were 60 percent favoring legal abortion and 38 percent
opposing abortion all or most of the time.