In the aftermath of Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about abortion and “legitimate rape,” as well as the attention given to Rep. Paul Ryan’s “almost no exceptions” opposition to abortion, the idea has resurfaced that opposition to abortion hurts pro-life candidates among women voters. But polls have consistently shown little difference between the abortion views of men and women.
A 2002 Public Agenda poll found that men were two percentage points more likely to believe that “abortion should be generally available” to those who want it (44% to 42%), and that women were slightly more likely to think “abortion should not be permitted” (22% to 21%).
A 2003 ABC/Washington Post poll found 58% of women and 54% of men felt abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.
More recently, a 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 40% of men and 37% of women felt “abortion should be generally available” while 20% of men and 24% of women felt “abortion should be not permitted.”
A 2012 Gallup poll found women (44%) were more likely than men (38%) to call themselves “pro-choice” and that men (53%) were more likely than women (46%) to call themselves “pro-life.” But Gallup found that from 2001-2008, 48% of men and 49% of women self-identified as “pro-choice.” Between 2009 and 2012, 43% of men and 45% of women identified as “pro-choice.”
According to Gallup, the share of women who thought abortions should be legal under any circumstances varied from 22% to 34% between 1975 and 2009. The share of men who took the same view varied from 21% to 29%.
What about the no exceptions position? The percentage of women who thought abortions should be illegal in all circumstances ranged from 15% to 21%, while the share of men who took the no exceptions pro-life view varied from 13% to 19%. In 2009, 21% of women and 16% of men took the no exceptions position.
Bottom line: Men and women hold very similar views on abortion and under which circumstances it should be available. Women are slightly more likely to hold an absolutist view — either that abortion should be “legal in all circumstances” or “illegal in all circumstances.”
But the real dividing lines are elsewhere. Education, age, religiosity, political affiliation, marital status and even regional differences play a larger role in determining someone’s views on abortion. As a 2010 Gallup survey found, “Educational achievement is much more important than gender in determining support for broadly legal abortion.… This has been the case since the 1970s.”