The new laws restricting abortion in Alabama and Georgia
made a big splash in the news over the past few weeks. Since the laws were
passed there have been numerous
polls showing that voters nationally oppose the measures. Of course, the
new laws won’t affect most Americans so I wondered what the citizens of Alabama
and Georgia who will actually live under the laws, assuming they are allowed by
the courts to take effect, thought of them.
When you look for polls of Georgia and Alabama voters about
the new laws, it’s quickly apparent that few have thought to check the opinion
of local voters. In March and April, the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution surveyed Georgia voters about the fetal
heartbeat bill that was pending in the legislature at the time. The poll
found that Georgia voters were closely split on the bill, with 43 percent in
favor and 48 percent opposed. In addition to the plurality of total voters, opponents
of the bill also felt more strongly about it. Thirty-nine percent were strongly
opposed while 25 percent strongly supported the legislation.
On the larger question of abortion, 70 percent of Georgia
voters opposed overturning Roe v. Wade,
however, only 22 percent said that abortion should be legal in all cases.
Voters who oppose all abortions were also a minority at 10 percent. The
majority of voters supported legal abortion with restrictions. Thirty-five
percent said it should be legal in most cases and 25 percent said it should be
illegal in most cases.
There does not seem to be any recent public polling of Alabama
voters available about the abortion law. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood
released details of a 2018 poll by ALG
Research, a Democratic polling firm, that showed results similar to the AJC
poll of Georgia voters.
In the poll, slightly less than a third of Alabamans
supported positions that were consistent with the state’s new law. Sixteen percent
said that abortion should only be permitted when the mother’s life is in danger
and 15 percent said that it should be banned outright.
Again, most voters took a moderate position with 49 percent
favoring restricted abortion. Twenty percent said that abortion should be legal
in most cases while 29 percent said that it should be allowed only in limited
cases, “such as rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is endangered.” Only 16
percent favored unrestricted abortion.
The lion’s share of support for the laws is from
Republicans, who Morning
Consult recently found support the measures by a 57-31 percent margin. Even
among Republicans, however, there is widespread support (45 percent) for exceptions
for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. These exceptions are notably
lacking from the Alabama law.
The bottom line is that passage of the laws was a principled
stand for pro-life principles by state Republicans, but it wasn’t a popular
stand. Even at home, the new restrictions are outside of the mainstream. This
is particularly true of the Alabama law.
When a party goes against public opinion to force through
legislation that is popular with the base, but unpopular with voters at large,
it often leads to a backlash. This raises the possibility that Republican
legislators will pay a political price for their votes next year, even if
courts strike down the new laws before they even take effect.