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LSU survey finds growing support for abortion rights, especially in cases of rape

Hundreds gathered for an abortion rights rally in New Orleans on Oct. 2, 2021.
Bobbi-Jeanne Misick/WWNO
Hundreds gathered for an abortion rights rally in New Orleans on Oct. 2, 2021.

Support for abortion rights in Louisiana grew over the last year, and a majority of people now say abortion should generally be legal, according to Louisiana State University’s annual statewide survey.

The 2023 Louisiana Survey found 52% of respondents support legal abortion in all or most cases. That’s up from last year, when 46% said they supported legal abortion.

Opposition to abortion rights also fell over the same period, from 49% who said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases in 2022 to 44% who held that view this year.

LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication conducted telephone-based surveys of 500 residents from late March to early April, and the survey carries a 5.8% margin of error.

The results are surprising in light of Louisiana’s conservative Christian demographics and anti-abortion political climate, but not compared to recent trends across the country, said Michael Henderson, a professor of political communication at LSU and the director of the Louisiana Survey.

“Louisiana is definitely shifting,” he said, “but where we are today is very much in a space that's still open to certain restrictions and regulations.”

“I think both pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates can walk away from these numbers, with something to rejoice in but also something to be wary about,” he added.

The survey results align with national polling, including from the Pew Research Center, showing growing support among Americans for abortion rights in recent years. They also mirror the results from a poll released earlier this year by groups that support abortion access, which found that 53% of respondents said they would support a constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion rights in Louisiana’s constitution, while 41% would oppose it.

Dramatic majorities of those polled by LSU said abortion should be legal when a person’s life is threatened by their pregnancy (85%) and when someone is pregnant as a result of rape (77%). That support is high among both Democrats and Republicans; for example, 69% of Republicans said abortions should be legal in cases of rape, as did 90% of Democrats.

The findings come weeks after Republican lawmakers blocked efforts to add rape and incest exceptions to Louisiana’s near-total abortion ban and killed a handful of bills that would have given physicians greater autonomy to care for pregnancy complications.

Louisiana's near-total abortion ban does include exceptions for abortions to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent serious, permanent impairment to a life-sustaining organ, but the law’s use of non-medical terminology has created fear, confusion and delays in care, some physicians have warned.

The state’s ban also allows for abortion when a fetus is deemed terminally ill — an exception that anti-abortion groups oppose but that a significant majority of survey respondents — 69% — supported.

Democrats were far more likely to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases: 83% compared to 26% of Republicans. Those under 30 and Black Louisianans were also more likely to support abortion rights, as were women.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of women said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 45% of men. Louisiana’s legislature is 80% male, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

The Louisiana Survey has polled respondents for their views on abortion three times: in 2016, 2022 and 2023. The findings show support for abortion rights has grown since that 2016 survey, when 40% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 55% who said it should be illegal.

Support among Democrats in particular has risen dramatically in that time, Henderson said, which could be a reflection not of an individual’s changing views but of the changing demographics of the Democratic Party. But he added that rising support over the last year for abortion rights does indicate that some people are thinking differently about abortion.

Henderson noted the survey’s results and other national polling clearly show the public’s response to over a dozen near-total abortion bans now enforced across the country in the wake of the US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“People are thinking about the events that have happened in this country on this issue in the last year or two, and so their attitudes are shifting as a result of that,” he said.

Despite an overall trend toward support for abortion rights, the survey also found Louisianans remain divided on other aspects of the abortion debate.

The polling showed respondents were split on whether a woman should be able to have an abortion if she feels she can’t afford another child (52% said no, compared to 45% who said yes), or doesn’t want a child (54% no compared to 43% yes).

There were similar divides over whether Medicaid or health insurance should cover the cost of an abortion — something currently prohibited in Louisiana.

Majorities said that it should be legal for women to travel out of state for an abortion (57%) and for people to provide assistance to those traveling for abortions (59%).

LSU’s survey questions were designed late last year in response to national debates over various aspects of abortion policy and in anticipation of what lawmakers might focus on this legislative session.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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