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  • Paul Stark

Poll of Minnesotans' views on Roe v. Wade is highly misleading

A new Star Tribune-MPR News poll indicates that 59 percent of Minnesotans want Roe v. Wade kept in place. That's a highly misleading and unreliable finding.

Here's the poll question: "Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. Would you like to see that abortion law kept in place, modified in some way, or overturned so that abortion is illegal?"

There are two problems with this question. First, it describes Roe as merely "the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal." But Roe didn't just make abortion legal (that's what a legislature would do by passing a law). Roe ruled that the U.S. Constitution requires legalized abortion. It said that abortion must be legal, whether Americans like it or not. It effectively banned the American people and their elected representatives from providing legal protection against abortion for unborn children.

Roe also said that abortion must be legal not just early in pregnancy or for particular reasons (a policy many Americans would support), but later in pregnancy, too, and for any reason whatsoever. Indeed, abortion polls consistently show that a strong majority of Americans actually disagree with the policy Roe created.

A 2018 Gallup poll, for example, found that only 45 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal "for any reason" in the first trimester (as Roe mandated). Only 28 percent of Americans think abortion should be generally legal in the second trimester (as Roe mandated). And a majority of 53 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances or in no circumstances. Roe said abortion has to be legal in every circumstance.

Roe, in short, is not and has never been consistent with the views of a majority of Americans. That is almost certainly true with respect to Minnesotans as well.

Second, the poll question says that overturning Roe would mean that "abortion is illegal." Nope, that's false. Overturning Roe would simply mean that the Supreme Court isn't dictating abortion policy any more. It would mean that states have a choice again. (In Minnesota, there would be no immediate change in abortion policy at all, and the ability of the Legislature to determine policy would still be severely limited because of a 1995 state Supreme Court decision.)

Many Americans who support abortion (and no doubt many Minnesotans who responded to the poll by saying they want Roe kept in place) favor legalized abortion only in the first trimester, or only in certain circumstances. That position is currently prohibited precisely because of Roe v. Wade. So, ironically, only by overturning Roe could our laws reflect that ordinary pro-choice position.

Polls about Roe are usually not very informative because many or most Americans don't know what Roe did, they don't know the far-reaching extent of Roe, and they don't know what overturning Roe would do. And the poll questions themselves often contribute to the misunderstanding of the people being polled.

That's very much the case with the Star Tribune-MPR News poll.

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