On the Legality and Morality of Abortion, Americans Split Along Geographic Lines

by Ari Pinkus January 24, 2022

As the battle over abortion rights flares anew at the state and federal levels, American public opinion on the legality and morality of abortion has been notably stable these past several years, according to Gallup surveys from 2014 to 2021. A majority of Americans agree that abortion should remain a legal option.

How wide or narrow the legal window should be varies by community type, according to an analysis by the American Communities Project. On the whole, residents in diverse, urban, economically stratified communities that voted for Democrats Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden support broader legality. Those in rural and religious communities that voted for Republican Donald Trump tend to want more constraints.

On the moral question, Americans are nearly split between whether abortion is acceptable or unacceptable. Here, too, place of residence plays a role in how people see the issue — but views are deeper and diverge much more between urban and rural communities.

Parsing Legality

Overall, 42% of Americans support abortion being legal under any or most circumstances, while another 36% say it should be legal in only a few circumstances, and 19% say it should be illegal in all circumstances, according to Gallup surveys from 2014 to 2021.

When drilling down by the American Communities Project typology, the diversity of racial/ethnic backgrounds, urban geography, stratified socioeconomic conditions, political orientation, and youth populations likely account for supportive views of abortion rights. The 106 Urban Suburbs ringing cities, the 47 Big Cities, and the 154 College Towns show the most support for legal abortion in any circumstance at 35%, 34%, and 32%, respectively. These community types supported Biden and Clinton in 2020 and 2016, respectively.

Comparatively, a plurality of Evangelical Hubs, Rural Middle America, and Military Posts say abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances. These communities are broadly characterized by adherence to tradition, religion, and discipline, and most sit in rural America. They all supported Trump in 2020 and 2016 by large margins.

  • For the 372 Evangelical Hubs, lower-income, less college-educated, evangelical Christian communities in the South and Midwest, 46% say abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances.
  • For the 89 Military Posts, middle-income, younger, mostly rural communities scattered around the country, 44% hold the same view.
  • For the 599 Rural Middle American middle-income counties stretching along the upper half of the county, it’s also 44%.

When it comes to making abortion illegal in all circumstances, none of the communities is even close to 50% supporting, though a few hover close to one-third.

  • 32% of those in the 161 Hispanic Centers based in the rural Southwest, Texas, and Florida, which are home to younger, lower-income, Latino-dominated populations;
  • 32% of those in the 337 Working Class Country communities in Appalachia, the Ozarks, and the upper Midwest, with lower-income, less-diverse, and less-college educated residents; and
  • 31% of those in the Evangelical Hubs.

Probing Morality

The question of morality is fraught and split. Overall, 44% of Americans see abortion as morally acceptable, 47% say it is morally unacceptable, and 8% say it depends on the situation, according to Gallup surveys.

Digging in at the community level shows a deep divide by rural/urban geography. Abortion is considered morally acceptable for 52% of residents in Big Cities, 50% of those in College Towns, and 49% in Urban Suburbs.

Sizable majorities in most kinds of rural communities consider abortion morally unacceptable, including:

  • 68% in Evangelical Hubs,
  • 65% in the African American South,
  • 60% in Hispanic Centers,
  • 58% in Working Class Country, and
  • 55% in Rural Middle America.

These surveys illustrate how Americans’ views are clear and consistent on an issue that continues to divide the nation. But a majority of Americans also continue to agree that abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances.

NOTE: This post originally also referenced the Aging Farmlands, LDS Enclaves and Native American Lands. Those references were removed because the polling sample sizes were too small.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

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