Nearly half of Utahns say abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest and threats to the health of the mother, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Moreover, 38% of the 808 registered Utah voters who responded to the recent public opinion poll said the state should determine laws regarding abortion, although 31% said government should not be involved in health care decisions. Twenty-five percent said the federal government should determine abortion laws.

The poll was conducted May 7-13, which was after the leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion that indicated the possibility that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that found the U.S. Constitution protected a woman’s right to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus, could be overturned.

Phillip Singer, assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah, whose research is focused on health and public health policy and politics in the United States, said the poll results reflect the complexity of the issue and as well as Utahns’ divergent views.

“More than a third of respondents think that abortion should be legal in some or in all cases. The vast majority of the remaining respondents think that it should be legal with some restrictions around the health of the mother, incest or rape. So I think that just highlights kind of the complex nature of abortion legislation and abortion opinion here in the state of Utah,” he said.

The poll has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

Over the past 30 years, polls taken at different points in time suggest a “crystallization of opinion in this shift overall towards further restrictions on abortion, making it, you know, illegal in all or in most cases,” Singer said.

According to the poll results, 16% of people surveyed said abortion should be legal in all cases while 10% said it should illegal in all cases.

A combined 37% said abortion should either be legal in all cases, up to about 23 weeks of pregnancy or during the first trimester.

Support for policies that permit abortion only in cases of rape, incest and threats to the health of the mother was highest among respondents ages 57 and older, with 56% indicating that as their preference.

Karrie Galloway, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said higher rates of opposition among a cohort that lived in a time when abortion on demand was not available and then became available under the Roe v. Wade decision, was somewhat surprising.

“Maybe it’s hard to remember. I would be very surprised that they would not have the compassion for what people go through,” she said.

Related
Where will women in the West go for a legal abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
What overturning Roe v. Wade would mean for Utah
Hundreds rally for abortion rights at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
Hundreds rally for abortion rights at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. | Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Among people ages 18-24, 29% said abortion should be legal in all cases. Sixteen percent said abortion should be legal to the point of viability, approximately 23 week of pregnancy, and 12% said should be legal during the first trimester.

However, 12% of people surveyed who are ages 18-24 and also those ages 25-40 — what are typically considered child-bearing years — said it should be illegal in all cases. That was higher than respondents ages 41-56 and those age 57 and older. In both of those groups, 8% said said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

The youngest cohort also had the strongest opposition to government involvement in health care decisions, with 38% saying government should have no role.

Overturning Roe would put the issue in the hands of state legislatures.

In Utah, a Supreme Court decision that overturns Roe would trigger SB174, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2020. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, prohibits elective abortion but would allow procedures in instances of rape or incest, risk to the mother’s life and certain fetal defects.

McCay said it is premature to discuss Utah’s abortion policy until the Supreme Court rules on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which centers on a Mississippi law banning all abortions over 15 weeks gestational age except in medical emergencies and in the case of severe fetal abnormality. 

“Once that decision is made, we’ll be in a good situation to assess where we are and the intended or unintended consequences come as a result of SB174,” he said.

The results of the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll “definitely validate that the state has a policy that the public can support. Whether that policy continues or changes in the future, we don’t know, but if you think the Supreme Court makes its decision, and if a ban on abortion or more restrictive controls on abortion would be appropriate, then I think this policy going into place, it shows that we’re in a pretty good spot from the public and public support,” McCay said.

Galloway said the association’s own polling and recent national polls indicate much stronger support for Roe v. Wade.

A Wall Street Journal/National Opinion Research Center poll released earlier this week found 68% of respondents think the ruling legalizing abortion nationwide should not be overturned — up 10 percentage points from a year ago. Thirty percent said the justices should strike it down.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll showed that 55% of Americans identify themselves as “pro-choice,” up from 49% last year and the most since 56% identified as such in 1995.

Like McCay, Galloway said she is anxiously anticipating the Supreme Court’s ruling and what it will mean for Utah women who turn to Planned Parenthood for help. Work is underway to ensure patients continue to have access to comprehensive health care “if it doesn’t go the way we may have hoped,” she said.

“Luckily, Utah has states to the east and the west of us that are more compassionate about their health care services,” she said.

Galloway said she finds it “so hypocritical” that the Utah Legislature “was willing to make decisions for pregnant people on how to handle that pregnancy, but has over and over again refused to pass legislation or even consider legislation that would enable them to control their reproductive lives.

“I think of especially expanding Medicaid for low-income people to pay for family planning, health care, and three years in the row, the Legislature has never even brought it out of committee.”

Contributing: KSL-TV