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Decade of Wisconsin polling shows majority support for abortion

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While the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to toss out Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in all 50 states, six in 10 Wisconsinites say abortion should be legal in most or all cases

What’s more, that margin has remained surprisingly consistent across a decade of the Marquette Law School Poll.

“It’s just striking how small the amount of opinion change there has been over this 10-year period,” poll director Charles Franklin said Tuesday.

Polls conducted between September 2012 and last October found that, on average, 25% of respondents said abortion should be legal in all cases and almost 35% said it should be legal in most cases, while 23% said it should be illegal in most cases and 12% said it should be illegal in all cases. An average of 4% of respondents over the 11 polls said they did not know enough to have an opinion.

Marquette Law School’s most recent poll on the matter, conducted in October, found that 61% of Wisconsinites say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 34% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

The 11 polls occurred when Roe v. Wade was firmly the law of the land, though opinions could change by this summer if the law is struck down, Franklin said.

Under Wisconsin’s more than 170-year-old abortion law, destroying the life of an “unborn child” would constitute a Class H felony, punishable by up to six years of combined prison time and extended supervision and a fine of up to $10,000, or both. The “willful killing of an unborn quick child,” which is generally described as a fetus that has developed to the stage that it moves within the womb of the mother, would be a Class E felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and five years of extended supervision. The law, passed in 1849, includes an exception for when a mother’s life is in danger but not for rape or incest.

National polls conducted by Marquette Law School in January and March of this year found that overturning Roe v. Wade was opposed by 72% and 68% of respondents, respectively.

Franklin added that overall respondent opinions on whether abortion should be legal or illegal has varied at times based on different circumstances. Close to two-thirds of respondents said in a March national poll that they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, while opinions in January on a ban on abortions at 15 weeks was closer to a 50-50 split. At the same time, a ban on abortions when the fetus is just 6 weeks old, like the one signed into law last year in Texas, was opposed by 72% of respondents.

“The circumstances matter … and people are willing to accept some sets of restrictions, but have then been clearly resistant to extreme restrictions like the Texas law,” Franklin said.

"It's just striking how small the amount of opinion change there has been over this 10-year period."

Charles Franklin, Marquette Law School Poll 

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